Choosing a Therapy Dollhouse

Dollhouses are excellent additions to a play therapy room. But a therapy dollhouse is different from one a parent would buy. Here are six things to consider when buying a dollhouse for use in child therapy.

Play therapists agree that a dollhouse is one of the essential items in assessment and treatment. Why? Because much of a child’s life takes place at home, and a dollhouse allows them to express their feelings and worries about home nonverbally. Multigenerational, multiethnic dolls allow the child to tell you about their home life, family, and routines in a nonthreatening way.

Not all dollhouses are suited to therapy. The best dollhouse is modular, meaning you can restructure the number and location of rooms to match the child’s home. But those are not very common and certainly not cheap. I’ve made a list below of things to look for and accessories to get.

Look for:

  1. Neutral colors. Many dollhouses come in bright pinks and purples, which can turn many kids away. The best dollhouses for therapy are either plain finished wood or a mix of colors that invite girls and boys to play.
  2. Empty rooms without decorations on the walls. Let the child use furniture to indicate the layout of the house that is most similar to their own at home.
  3. At least two stories. The upper and lower floors can represent separate levels of an apartment complex or multiple levels of a home.
  4. No external walls. Many dollhouses have a front door and an external wall on one side. This blocks the therapist’s view of what the child is doing. You should be able to see every room as the child is playing.
  5. Wood construction. Plastic gets brittle with time and use. Wood tends to last longer and hold up better to play. Wood also tends to be the material of choice for open frame and modular dollhouses, so it would probably be easier to find.
  6. Portable. While you may not be carrying it around, it should be easy enough for a child to turn around and for you to lift up onto a table. Heavier materials are sturdier, but you also need to be able to access it when you want to.

Accessories:

  1. People! Make sure to get a variety of skin colors, hair colors, ages, and genders. This can be a good tool to find out who lives with the child, who are close, who fight, and how the family is structured.
  2. Furniture. You’ll need everything people usually have in their homes. These allow you to code the rooms as kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, etc.
  3. Pets. Optional, but many children have or want pets. Sand tray pets work well too if you don’t want to buy separate dollhouse and sand tray animals. Many kids have nontraditional pets like farm animals or reptiles.

Kinetic Sand

Kinetic sand is a great addition to any play therapy room. We use it in every phase from assessment to saying goodbye.

Kinetic sand is one of my favorite things to have in a play therapy room. It’s so much more versatile than regular play sand and is easier to clean up. It sticks to itself (and sometimes your hands) but not to surfaces or sand toys. Store bought kinetic sand is made of regular sand mixed with silicone oil to get the unique texture.

You can also make your own kinetic sand for use in the office or at home with sand, cornstarch, dish soap, and water. Other recipes call for vegetable oil and plain flour, and I would recommend this recipe for therapeutic use because of potential problems with cornstarch and dish soap. Dried out kinetic sand can be refreshed with soapy water.

Kinetic sand tips:

  1. Don’t buy or make sand with glitter unless you’re prepared to have a glittery room… and clothes… and hands
  2. Because it sticks to itself but not other surfaces, you can clean up spills easily by gathering a packed ball of sand and running it over the spill.
  3. Make sure to get a container that’s large enough to hold all the sand plus plenty of room for playing.
  4. Get lots of toys! Play therapy works best when there are options to choose from!