Listening activities to promote cognitive flexibility and communication

Reader Emily Clifton sent in this very useful assortment of interventions. Ms. Clifton earned a gift certificate to for her submission. Learn how you can do the same!

Game: Puppets

Ideal for: group or in family sessions

Instructions: In this game you assign one group the role of puppet, and another group serves as the puppet masters. You will have the group act out a situation. The puppets are doing the actions, but each have a puppet master that will be their voices, so the puppets’ actions have to be guided by what the puppet masters are having them say.


Game: Sculpting

Ideal for: group or family session, must be done in pairs

Need: Play-Doh, Legos or another building material

Instructions: The therapist gives each member equal amounts/sizes of play-doh or Legos. The therapist has one person make a sculpture that the other person cannot see. Then they have the builder describe to the other person how to recreate their sculpture. At the end they compare to see if their sculptures are the same. Then you have the participants switch roles. The therapist should ask questions such as: What was difficult about being a listener? What was difficult about instructing others?


Game: One-Liners

Ideal for: group or family session

Instructions: The therapist chooses three people to create a scene. Two people are given one generic line. Throughout the scene, they can only say this line. The other person may say whatever they want. You give the participants a general character and scene, such as: two customers and an employee at McDonald’s. During the scene, you can say freeze to help characters that are stuck. Afterwards, you can talk to members about how it felt to have their control limited or to be the one in charge of moving the scene forward, etc.


Game: Storytelling

Ideal for: individual, group or family sessions

Need: Deck of Apples to Apples cards, In a Pickle Cards, Story Cubes or other cards with nouns on them,

Instructions: Each person during their turn chooses a card at random. They must use the noun on this card to start, continue, or end a story. They must not negate anything the person before them has said. In a larger group, it is also good to include the parameters around the story getting violent or lewd.


Game: 5-2-1

Ideal for: group or family in sets of two or three

Instructions: Group people into twos or threes. Ask each of them to think of a story concerning something that has happened to them that is about five minutes long. Then you assign each person in the group a role: listener or teller (and if there’s a third person–observer). The Teller will have five minutes to tell their story. During this time, the listener can’t talk, but has to show they are actively listening to the story. After the five minutes, the listener has two minutes to summarize the story they just heard, and the teller has to show active listening skills. Then, during the last minute, the teller has to summarize the listener’s summary. Afterwards, the facilitator can ask questions such as: How did you know the listener was listening? How was it to listen without being able to talk? How did you show you were a good listener? How was it to tell a story without being interrupted? What was it like to be an observer and what did you notice? Then each person can take turns taking on the different roles in rotation.


Communication/Feeling Identification Activity:

Ideal for: clients needing to identify different cues regarding how people are feeling or the environment around them.

Need: Pictures from magazine or photos of people interacting with one another in natural settings: library, trick-or-treating, cooking dinner, etc.

Instructions: Show kid(s) one picture at a time. You can ask them to identify the who, what, why, when and how of the picture, asking them to point out which contact clue led them to know something about the people in the picture. For example: drinking orange juice could signal breakfast time, or the color of leaves on a tree could signal season. You can also ask about what emotion each person is feeling and how you know this from their body language, facial expression, proximity to one another, etc.

April Play Therapy Wrap-Up

-This list of frequently asked questions about gaining a certificate in play therapy is specific to UC San Diego, but would still be quite informative for people interested in pursuing the degree. This general overview would be helpful, as well.

-At the beginning of 2013 the Institute for Play Therapy at Missouri State University was designated as an approved center of play therapy education by the APT. Here’s a great video about the benefits of play therapy and how it’s being taught and utilized at MSU:

-Spring/summer is a great time for play therapists to take advantage of learning opportunities and even squeeze a little summer vacation in while you’re at it. Friend of CTT Liana Lowenstein has a number of speaking engagements lined up that we encourage you to check out. Those of you who have had the pleasure of hearing Ms. Lowenstein speak know just how valuable an experience it can be. For those of you who haven’t, a visit to her website (or a perusal of this blog) should provide plenty of enticement. Here is her upcoming schedule.

Child Play Works Child Centered Play Therapy is a New Zealand organization dedicated to play therapy. The website is an excellent resource for play therapists in New Zealand, providing learning opportunities (both offline and on), newsletters, and more.   

-Speaking of newsletters, I’ve found that even if the source isn’t from your state’s play therapy association, they still provide some great articles and information. Here’s the archive for the Michigan APT’s newsletter, which is really pretty top-notch!

-Another can’t miss event this summer is the Annual Play Therapy Institute presented by the Northwest Center for Play Therapy Studies. The conference will be held June 2-6 and offers talks by Garry Landreth, Sue Bratton, and several more seasoned practitioners and educators. You can view the full brochure here and register online here.

-There were really just too many conferences and workshops announced this month to list here, but they can all be found at our articles and resources site!

-This is certainly a contender for the article of the month for April. A very interesting piece on ‘affinity therapy’, which uses a child’s fondness for–or in many cases “obsession with”–a particular animated character to help them learn social skills. The practice has been particularly successful with autistic children.

-Here’s an article on a great early education program in Colorado utilizing play therapy.

-Big news from the American Mental Health Foundation: it will be hosting its first two interactive webinars in its long history and they both have play therapy elements. The first one, in September, is on play therapy with adults, and the November webinar looks at using play to help children and families deal with disasters.

Is this the future of sand tray therapy? Are iPads going to serve as sandtrays? Even scarier: are we therapists going to be replaced by robots? Well…probably not anytime soon, but if you want a little glimpse at Sci-Fi Sandplay, check out this wild article.

Congrats to some fellow Texans!

-Here’s a news report from New Orleans–where play therapy was used to help many children suffering trauma after Hurricane Katrina–on whether or not play therapy intervention is right for your child. Another recent article from a Mississippi news source explains the benefits of play therapy and why services should be made more widely available in the region.

-In the March Play Therapy Wrap-Up we started a Sand Tray Miniature of the Month feature. This month’s mini is the adorable and expressive Emotes dolls. Each Emotes character represents a different emotion, and therefore mirrors a child’s own emotions. In this way, children are able to externalize and literally interact with their emotions while having fun along the way.

Have a wonderful, memorable May, everyone!

Quantifying the Success of Play Therapy Intervention

Play Therapy UK recently released the results of a ten-year research program aimed at an estimate of the effectiveness of play therapy intervention. The report is called ‘An Effective Way of Alleviating Children’s Emotional, Behaviour and Mental Health Problems – the Latest Research’ and it’s comprehensive approach and important results make it well-worth mentioning in a blog post. With useful charts and uncomplicated language, the report sheds light on the impact play therapy intervention is having on the lives of individuals receiving the therapy, as well as society as a whole.  As you will read, the results are encouraging, showing a 74-83% positive change in children referred for the therapy. It also considers such factors as age, gender, length of treatment, type of treatment (group, sand tray, puppets, etc.), and nationality. It even does a cost-benefit analysis of play therapy, analyzing the money put into play therapy programs and the return received by society. This is a must-read for any practitioner. What do you think of the results? Share your opinions in the comments section.