Our work is serious business. Please pass the glitter.

27 02 2012

My agency does a great job of offering trainings. Most aren’t mandatory, but we do have those as well. (They sure are fun. And relevant!) As long as your supervisor approves, and you can get all your work done (numbers, numbers, numbers) you can be trained to your heart’s content.

I decided to take a play therapy training a little while back. I chose it because I felt that I needed better tools to reach my younger kids, I needed a better understanding of what techniques work best with what kids, it didn’t interfere horribly with anything else, and it would get me out of the office. Oh, and I like to play.

Play is how kids communicate. No matter how clever and verbal they are, if they’re under eleven, they need to play. If they’re over eleven, they still need to play, though there are more options at that point for talking while playing. It can be hard to remember this, if you have an eight year old tell you “I need to lay on a couch and talk. Like, real therapy” or a parent saying, “So my kid is acting like a nightmare, and you’re sitting around playing games with him?!” But we need to educate our participants about what works with kids. I tried just talking with an eight year old, back when I was an intern. Rookie mistake, SJ.

This is even true for kids who think they don’t like to play. When my kids talk about playing, they are invariably talking about playing video games. I’m not against video games, but kids need to experience play and the worlds in other ways. Older kids see art as something for children, and boys see it as something for girls. But when you get them to try it, often you can’t get them to stop.

The trainer got me on board immediately when she said that she refused to use the Talking, Feeling, & Doing Game.

If you’ve never used it, it’s a board game in which you collect chips for responding to different cards. You either answer a question, share your feelings on something, or do a little something. I’m sure some of you love it. I just happen to find it quite tedious. I don’t feel like it really gets me anywhere. Also, I was once going through the cards, and one of the “doing” cards asked the person to pretend that they were looking at a magazine with naked pictures of men and women.

Um, no, I don’t want to!

Point is, it’s not for me. We have to be genuine in our work. I can’t feign enthusiasm or belief in that game. But there are many other games and activities that are genuinely awesome.

This trainer reminded us all of the importance of keeping things simple. We don’t need cutting edge therapeutic toys. It’s OK if you don’t have multiracial, anatomically correct puppets and a dollhouse. Doing things with parents and children that they can replicate at home is very powerful, and effective.

This is especially good because our playroom sucks. It is clearly filled with discarded toys that some kind soul donated, so that they can torture another generation. Most of them make noise. Great for counseling, and for the people working around us! The rest are in shambles and missing pieces. Playing Candyland with Sorry pieces and these people.

Here are my go-tos:

Ah, checkers. A real classic. Easy to set up (not like Mousetrap. Anyone else ever have that game? It almost drove my father to self-harm.) and not too hard to keep pieces together. Like with most low-key, traditional games, we can see and help kids to take turns, learn patience, follow rules–you know, all that crap that lets them be a part of society.

It’s just like checkers, but vertical! I have kind of an unnatural love for this game. As in, even in my personal life. It’s great for almost all ages, and it’s quick, so even if you destroy the kid the first time around, they’ll have another chance.

Kids love Uno. Why wouldn’t they? It’s awesome. It’s one of those games that they never feel too old for. It’s huge amongst my teenagers, they all play it at lunch. You can see pretty easily if a child is insecure when you’re playing–are they refusing to throw down a draw four, because they think you won’t like them? Time for a chat!

Regular playing cards are also great. They’re cheap, and often given out for free, so they’re easy to send families home with. It’s pretty awesome to teach a family Spit, Rob the Pack, Rummy, even Texas Hold’em (which I swear was a one time thing) and hear them talk about their game nights the next week.

My Lego bin is one of my most prized possessions. Legos are great. They’re a creative medium and they get kids engaged. (Boys and girls, both. Honestly.)

Crayola is my best friend. I try not to be a snob, but when it comes to art supplies I just am. There’s really no comparison. Don’t come at me with your White Rose. Watercolors are great, because you can totally finger paint if you want to, and they’re perfectly washable. It’s great for those parents (and kids) who get so worked up about the kids staying pristine and their clothes being unstained. Kids can be kids, no one will get hurt.

Of course, my number one favorite is Play-Doh. It’s tactile and great for aggressive or hyper kids to manipulate. Playing with it can easily be broken down into steps, which is great for kids who tend to get a little ahead of themselves. The weekly process of “What are we going to make? OK, which colors do we need? What do we make first?” was incredibly effective on a six year old with severe ADHD. And even more fun than laying on a couch.

I recently Tweeted this picture as an example of why I love my job. People never believe me when I tell them social work is fun, and I get that. But social work is fun. This is my desk drawer, containing a small example of my work supplies. As hard as the job can get, helping kids cope by playing with them is a pretty sweet way to spend the day.

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5 responses

27 02 2012
sofia

so true. glitter is serious business, along with connect 4. i remember using connect 4 in a therapeutic setting for the first time during my internship at a high school – i was amazed at how much i could get a 15 boy talking by simply playing this game i hadn’t played in YEARS with him. it’s powerful stuff. you wanna be black or red this round? :)

27 02 2012
emaufmuth

Play is one of the reasons I love my work. But when working with child care providers, I often have to reinforce the ‘learning’ that’s going on. Many of them want to do flash cards, worksheets, and Baby Einstein crap to prove that they’re teaching…Then they wonder why the child won’t sit for 30 minutes, hates writing, and zones out on the TV. Oof.

But that box of legos will keep them going for 30-45 minutes. It’s magic stuff! And it’s how we build a house, talk about who lives with them, what they like to play, etc. etc. Then I can tell the providers, look at the fine motor control to build that tower, see how he’s matching colors, look at how he organized the blocks! Sure, it’s not how I view play, but if it helps them get on board, I’m willing to sell it.

27 02 2012
Kelly

i use some art therapy when i work doing therapeutic groups with soldiers and other service members. it is hard to sell it to the other staff who are also military, but the soldiers really like it. they end up calling my group the arts and crafts group.

29 02 2012
Tracey

Hi! I’ve been reading for some time, and have recommended your blog to my old uni lecturers all the way down here in Australia…and not just because you refer to social work school as la la land!

I finished my Bachelor of Human Services/Master of Social Work last year and your blog is one of the few to tell it like it really is once you’re practicing (and believe me, I still feel like I’m practicing most days!).

I have just signed up for a Certificate in Sandplay Therapy followed by a Certificate in Expressive Therapies (glutton for punishment methinks!)…but exactly for the reasons you talk about here…engaging kids and teens in ways more natural to them than talking to some “old” person (anyone who is older than 20 is OLD).

As an aside, I was speaking to a young client recently who said “so, anyway she inboxed me” to which I look puzzled and said “is that like MSN?”. The look/s on her face (surprised, disgusted, confused) were followed by “so exactly how old are you again?”. My reply, “Ancient obviously!”. (To those playing at home even more ancient than I, inboxing refers to sending someone a message on Facebook!)

I can’t wait to go to work to play more often…I’m working in an agency that I assume is similar to yours – working with families to get them out of the child protection system. The kids are the best bit, and adding a bit more play therapy is just what I (oops, I mean they) need!

5 03 2012
socialjerk

Thank you for recommending the blog! Certificate in sandplay therapy sounds amazing, I’m jealous. Enjoy, and good luck in your work!

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