Toys Should Be Selected

One of the first rules Play Therapists learn is that “toys should be selected, not collected”. I’m super anal about where I take my kids to play because I find toys to fall into two categories: beneficial or detrimental. Yes, a toy can hinder development and learning just as much (if not more) than help it!

Toys should be carefully selected!


  • Electronics
  • Battery operated
  • Cause/Effect
  • Toxic (lead paint, stinky plastic, foams)
  • Games/Puzzles

Choose toys made from natural materials that allow for limitless possibilities! The child should play WITH the toy, the toy should never play FOR the child. Sidenote: The adult should never play FOR the child either. It is not the parents, grandparent, or teachers job to entertain the child. Play is about processing emotions, creativity, imagination, self-expression, and learning about the world and self.

Role Play:

  • Costumes
  • Pretend food or recycled containers
  • Workbench
  • Kitchen
  • Dollhouse
  • Barns
  • Shopping carts
  • Rags, buckets, window scrapers
  • Garden tools, wheelbarrow


  • Pipecleaners
  • Cla, play-doh
  • Crayons, markers, paints
  • Paper, tissue paper
  • Packing peanuts, bubble wrap
  • Pom poms
  • Kinetic sand
  • Water beads
  • Beads, string, yarn
  • Paintbrushes, easels
  • Chalk
  • Fabric, felt
  • Spray bottles


  • Gnomes, fairies
  • Insects, bugs, snakes
  • Animals
  • Cars, trucks, planes
  • Trees, flowers, wood slices, grass, moss
  • Dolls
  • Gems, rocks, marbles, stones
  • Furniture


  • Blocks
  • Nesting toys
  • Stackers
  • Squigz
  • Magnetiles
  • Qubes
  • Lincoln logs
  • Legos


  • Teepees, forts, tents
  • Pillows, blankets
  • chairs or futons
  • Rugs
  • Lava lamps, shakers

If you find yourself wondering what a toy “does”, then it’s probably a good toy because a toy should never “do” anything. The child does something with the toy instead. I love the garden section at Hobby Lobby and I love parusing antique stores and Goodwills for “junk” I have no idea what it actually is! I also search for Waldorf toys online via Amazon or Fat Brain Toys and my favorite brands are Janod, Kid-O, Melissa & Doug, Tegu, & Grimms! Remember that the less toys a child has, the more they play, so keep things to a minimum and very well organized. An overwhelming playroom doesn’t spark imagination, it can be over stimulating and cause a child to shut down. Happy playing!

Stay gold, 

That Girl

Let Your Child Play ALONE

Before you freak out and get all up in arms, hear me out. I’m not saying ALL THE TIME, goofballs, I’m just saying there’s a HUGE benefit to allowing your child independent play. Take it from a Play Therapist (muah). 



When your child plays with you, another adult, babysitter, or even another friend, their creativity is sometimes swayed. They might make decisions based on what they think the other person wants. Perhaps in their imagination they really want to build a candy house with their legos, but they think dad wants them to build a big tall tower so they go ahead and build the tower so dad will be pleased. When they play alone, they are free to make their own decisions.


I cringe sometimes watching adults “play” with their children knowing they have ulterior motives. Play should not be a time of teaching or lecturing. For example, when your child is playing with the barnyard animals, it’s not a time to teach them the proper names of the animals and the sounds that they make. Remember that in your child’s imagination, these might not be barnyard anmals. They could be monsters, soldiers, fairies, or aliens.

Also, I often see parents using play as an opportunity to teach life lessons. Just because your child is making people fight in his play doesn’t mean he’s going to be a fighter or grow up to be violent. Play is for expressing in fantasy what cannot happen in reality and it’s perfectly healthy to explore all sides of the self in play.



Play is intrinsically motivated, meaning there are no rules and there’s no final product. A child needs permission to play freely, make decisions on their own, and problem solve independently. Even the most well meaning adult can say or do things that interrupt the natural flow of the play and can sometimes distract the child.


Children often play out tough experiences and give situations they struggled with alternate endings. Perhaps they play out the scene where you made them clean up their mess and they want to yell and scream at you. This can only happen if they’ve had opportunity to play privately.



Children learn through play. They need the opportunity to do things the wrong way, spell incorrectly, read the wrong words, and make mistakes. Play is a natural part of growth and development and ironically, more growth and development occurs during independent, free play.


Now, it is also a great bonding experience to play with your child occassionally too, so here’s a few rules of thumb to follow:

Don’t ask questions: If you have enough information to ask a question, you have enough information to make a statement. Questions stunt imagination because there’s the pressure of answering “correctly”. Rather than, “Why is the princess locked away,” try “The princess is locked up.” When the child hears you acknowledging what’s occuring in the play, they’ll likely provide more information for you to follow along.

Don’t label things that haven’t been labeled: Remember, your child is using their imagination. If they haven’t labeled an object as a horse, a car, an apple, then it might not be. They could be pretending the horse is a dinosaur, the car is a spaceship, and the apple is a bomb that will wreak havoc on all in it’s path. Call it that, those, etc and leave things vague until the child tells you what it is to them. There’s no right or wrong in play.

Allow the child to lead: Do not involve yourself in the play. Let the child tell you what they want you to do, who they want you to be and what you say and do. This is the one place in their life where they’re in charge and it’s very empowering when mom or dad take a backseat.

Grant in fantasy what you can’t grant in reality: Remember, play is about exploring imagination, processing feelings, and playing out difficult emotions. Allow them to be the bad guy, act silly, fight, shoot, kidnap, and be loud. Exploring this side of themselves in fantasy may even decrease the chance of violence in reality.


I use Sandtray Therapy and Play Therapy in my counseling practice with young children because children communicate through their play. Should you feel your child needs Play Therapy to process something difficult that has happened in their life, please email me at

Chelsea Vail, MA, CCLS, LPC-Intern

Under supervision of Karen Burke, LPC-S

The Burke Center, 8101 W Hwy 71, Austin, TX

Top “Clean” Products for Baby Registry & Baby Shower Gifts

I’ve certainly been to my share of baby showers in my day and I can honestly say I’ve yet to go to one where I feel confident the mom has what she needs. More importantly, I have yet to go to one that doesn’t make me cringe because I see gift after gift opened that’s 100% TOXIC to a newborn!


Baby products and baby gear are among the most toxic items consumers purchase next to household cleaners. Yikes! Baby gear and products from the big name brands are often made with PVC, lead paints, pthalates, fragrances, dyes, dioxins, chlorines, and other carcinogenic, toxic chemicals that have been linked to everything from neurological disorders, to infertility later in life, to endocrine issues and hormonal imbalances. It’s sickening, huh?

After working in the NICU, PICU, and Hematology/Oncology units at various children’s hospitals in Texas I decided I’d like to be a part of what changes that fact. That’s why I opened, an online boutique for babies, tots, and expectant moms to get what they need without worrying their child was being exposed to harmful chemicals.

Here are my top recommendations from

  • A Woombie swaddle: baby needs to be swaddled tight for the first 3 months for best sleep. The Woombie swaddle sacks take the guess work out of swaddling
  • Swaddledesigns swaddle blanket (2-3): these are adorable, nontoxic, and lightweight! Not only are they swaddle blankets, but they’re great for stroller covers, lovies, nursing covers, and seat covers
  • Ringley teether: nontoxic, organic cotton, and organic bamboo teething ring
  • Keekaroo Peanut Changer: made from PVC free, nontoxic material, it won’t slip, it’s stain resistant, waterproof, and puncture proof. It’s durable, lightweight, and holds baby in safe because of it’s unique “peanut shaped” design

  • Wysi Wipes: a pack of biodegradable, flushable wipes that come the size of a dime, but expand to the size of a wipey with a dab of water
  • 5 Phases bottles: 100% BPA free because they’re glass inside, but are covered wit a silicone outside! Shatterproof, nontoxic, organic (5oz and 9oz)…get 3-4 of each size

  • Under the Nile newborn mittens, booties, and hat: Under the Nile products are made from Certified Organic Egyptian Cotton and the booties and mittens are designed to stay ON baby without being too tight. Newborns can’t regulate their own body temperature until 6 months old so they really need their head, feet, and hands covered 0-3 months at least
  • Mimo Baby Smart Monitor: This starter kit comes with kimonos for baby to wear when asleep. The ” turtle” monitor sits on baby’s tummy and monitors heart rate, breathing, and sleeping patterns viewed easily on the app from your smart phone. Rest easy!
  • Mimo Baby Smart Bottle Warmer: most bottle warmer don’t work like they say and they all burn your fingers! The Mimo Baby Smart Bottle Warmer is a state of the art design that is linked to the smart monitor and begins to heat a bottle as baby wakes up so the bottle is hot by the time baby is awake! It’s unique design keeps the bottle cold until it’s time and doesn’t overheat the exterior of the bottle either. (available 2015)

  • Melissa and Doug Toys and Hape Toys (view all toys HERE)
  • Punkin Butt Teething Oil (you’re welcome in advance, lol)
  • Bean Clean Cradle Cap Brush: use with sweet almond oil or olive oil
  • Original Sprout Scrumptious Baby Cream & Hair/Body Baby Wash: baby shampoo and baby washes are among the most toxic of baby products due to the dyes & fragrances
  • Umbilical Bodysuit: sleep suit with a belly button opening to keep the site dry for faster healing & to reduce infection
  • Rockabye Baby Lullaby Renditions: these CDs are lullaby versions of your favorite rock n’ roll or pop songs for increased parental sanity at night time
  • Happy Baby Wrap: organic bamboo cotton wrap (babycarrier) that holds up to 30 lbs and doubles as a nursing cover in a pinch
  • Duux Air Humidifer: newborns breathe primarily through their nose. A dry nasal passage is not conducive for healthy breathing or healthy sleep. Keep ’em wet with an adorable, state of the art, mushroom shaped humidifer.


  • Baby Elephant Ears: I only feature the organic version of this head support pillow. Protect baby from being “chin to chest” or “ear to shoulder” too long in the car & keep their airways clear
  • Belly Band by Belly Armor: protect your unborn baby by wearing this Radiashield technology Belly Band under your clothes throughout your pregnancy
  • Shrinkx Belly Wrap: postpartum wrap to be worn after delivery to help you return to pre-baby body faster, support ab muscles, and support posture
  • MS or C-panty: the C panty is designed with medical grade silicone to fit over your incision site for faster healing and both the C-panty and the MS panty are designed to support healing abdominal muscles after delivery and reduce pain from gas and bloating
  • Earth Mama Nipple Butter: breastfeeding hurts! You can expect sore, dry, cracked nipples unless you’re using 100% organic nipple butter, safe for ingestion, #happynipplehappymama….am I right or am I right?!

    OS from NB-Toddler!

  • Rumparooz diapers or Grovia from Natural Baby Company…Cloth Diapers are surprisingly EASIER and more convenient than disposables, plus they’re free from carcinogenic chemicals! Save the bums!

Obviously you’ll also need a stroller, crib, carseat, bouncer, infant tub, and other large scale items that I don’t carry in my teensy weensy boutique. Be sure to air out ALL of these products for 2-3 months in the garage or outdoors to reduce exposure to chemicals from off-gassing once baby arrives.

Check out a HUGE seclection of strollers at Stroller Depot and visit Magic Bean to complete your baby registry and get the rest of the things on your list. Click & shop below:


Want cute clothes? Gymboree, Janie & Jack, and Crazy 8 have you covered but be sure you wash all of your new clothes in an organic detergent & don’t use a dryer sheet.

Go to and click “Add to Registry” under any product you love. You’ll be prompted to create a registry. It’s that easy. Live, love, and shop with a Whole Heart!


That Girl