In 2008, I underwent training in Creative Experiential Therapy methods conducted by the Melbourne Institute of Creative and Experiential Art Therapy. During that time, I became very interested in the very wide variety of therapeutic help available to individuals. I was particularly interested in Occupational Therapy and Play Therapy . The latter grew many shoots to include a more or less structured approach as well as a completely non-directive approach. I have friends and former colleagues who are registered play therapists and am aware that many of these therapy sessions are 1-1 and have a recognisable efficacy in supporting children who have had or are undergoing traumatic experiences. I have my preferences but this is clearly a method effective in its own right. What I do want to explore is the interchangeable use of the term ‘play’ with the effects of ‘play therapy’ specifically. Someone may come and observe my class and ask where the toys are and as I explain the wonders of constructive activities with carefully designed open-ended and natural materials in a Montessori environment, I am told ‘but play is very important. You know, like play therapy. It is believed children need these opportunities to work things out and help with emotional and social difficulties.’
I recognise in this response that as a society, we can agree on one thing: that there is a lack of opportunities for children to do ‘children things’. That the chances, of children in a neighbourhood independently gathering together to create their own games and organise their own hide-and-seek along the street they live on, are very unlikely, for fears of stranger-danger and careless drivers. We also recognise that the effects of these restrictions are increased difficulties with social behaviour, concentration and generally happiness. Our solution as it seems, is compulsory homemade play therapy. ‘Go and play with your toys,’ we command.
It is true every child (or human being for that matter) had something that they are working on. Perhaps, one is too quick to frustrate, another asks for help at every corner, yet another is too quick to please. But they do not all have a significant learning difficulty. Each child is born with incredible abilities to adapt to his time and place. A problem to us may not be a problem to her. She lives life as it is to her, day to day. Would you consider the following?:
Time on their own allows time to build habits of independence and feelings on ‘I can be on my own’. Children who have been shown how to do things, when left on their own, are allowed the chance to repeat and self-correct, building abilities to concentrate.
3. Working parents have limited time to spend with their children and wish to be involved and interact with their children: Can you play with your child without taking over her play? Or suggesting or helping too much?
Does your interaction with your child empower her or do you have a tendency to dominate or make her feel that her ideas are not good enough? Better yet, involve your child in what you do around the house, whether it be a bit of cleaning, gardening or washing the car.- It may take a little longer but they will definitely be much more open to having you tell them what to do and they probably can’t wait to get their hands on it.
4. What kind of toys do they have?
Is there a variety of open-ended blocks, puzzles or well-crafted miniatures? Which ones seem to have withstood the test of time? Do they have at least as many books as they do toys?
Perhaps today, mini- me can have a go at watering the plants or washing the car with you? You are not going to get a lot done that way but it could still be lots of fun!