Play's the Thing: Facilitating Play & Therapeutic Aspects of Play




Play’s the Thing: Facilitating Play & Therapeutic Aspects of Play is made up of two weekend programs for educators, graduate students, playworkers in outdoor parks, children’s museums and playgrounds, social workers, play therapists, and child life specialists, who are interested in learning more about the importance of play in the lives of children. The program explores play in learning, therapeutic, and recreational contexts through an interdisciplinary lens, using small group discussions, observations, and hands-on activities. Participants also engage in field observations of children at Sarah Lawrence College’s Early Childhood Center and at Community Adventure Play Experiences.

Sarah Lawrence College is an Approved CTLE Sponsor and offers CTLE hours for this program.

Scholarships are available for New York City Public School Teachers through a grant from the Seth Sprague Education and Charitable Foundation. For more information, call the Child Development Institute at 914.395.2630 or e-mail


Designing Play Spaces for Creativity and Imagination

Designing places that are flexible, welcoming, aesthetically pleasing, and engaging can be accomplished indoors and outdoors. Designing with nature can create especially successful environments for play and imagination. With forethought and the right environmental and program planning, play advocacy can be built into a place as part of its intrinsic character. We will look at examples of how this sort of design and advocacy has been accomplished and can be used as models in other settings.

Introduction to the DIR/Floortime Model: Fostering Early Stages of Engagement and Purposeful Communication

This session introduces the basic concepts of "Developmental, Individual Differences, and Relationship Based" (DIR) model of assessment and intervention and illustrates how to encourage affect-based developmentally appropriate interactions for children with special needs. The aim of this presentation is to provide a general overview of this model, its theoretical base, how it is implemented, and how it incorporates various therapeutic modalities to support the health and wellbeing of children with developmental difficulties. Video clips of clinical material will be used to illustrate the application of the model in the context of a private practice, school, and home settings, and take into account developmental, spatial, and cultural considerations.

Looking at Children's Play

This session introduces participants to the field observation process which takes place at the Sarah Lawrence College Early Childhood Center. Drawing on what we have seen and discussed so far, we will provide a template for observing and recording observations which will serve as the basis for discussion on such topics as: What functions do different forms of play serve for the child? What is the shape of a “play episode”? How do children collaborate in play? Are there different kinds of imaginative activities that serve differing functions? Can we identify the sources of themes revealed in the children’s play?

The Meanings of Play: Developmental Perspectives

This session begins with an introduction and viewing of the film When a Child Pretends, made for public television by Jonathan Diamond Associates in association with the Child Development Institute. We will then consider the kinds of activities that are called “play” and their differing roles in the lives of children. Using the film as a basis for discussion, this session focuses primarily on imaginative or pretend play. An introduction to psychological theories of play highlights social, emotional, imaginative and cognitive aspects of play and serves as a foundation for understanding the importance of play for the child’s development.

Non-Directive Play Therapy

This session discusses the basic principles of non-directive play therapy, including the therapist's role in the play session and the multiple reasons for treatment. An in-depth look at particular case studies will provide further insight into the therapeutic power of play and how children use play as a way to emotionally recalibrate and heal.

Play in Cultural Context

This session will address the intersection of play and culture, focusing on the ways that contexts (defined broadly as family, cultural norms, social expectations) influence the nature of play and attitudes that adults hold toward the meaning and uses of play. We will think particularly about play in Southern and Eastern Africa, focusing on examples from South Africa, Malawi, Zimbabwe and Tanzania. We will also discuss the implementation of Community Adventure Play Experiences (CAPEs) in Tanzania and Zimbabwe.

Play Memories, Playwork and Setting the Stage for "Loose Parts" Play

This workshop will explore the phenomenon of adventure playgrounds and the profession of playwork, which developed in the UK after World War II. Adventure playgrounds use loose parts— materials such as wood, sand, water, cardboard boxes, string, fabric, and other recycled materials. We will consider how these materials and the site itself contribute to the children's play. This session will lay the groundwork for the afternoon event of setting up and carrying out a Community Adventure Play Experience (CAPE) in Yonkers.

Play Therapy—A Jamaican Experience

In the summer of 2007, Marie Reynolds introduced play therapy to the Child Abuse Mitigation Project in Jamaica, and since her return to Jamaica she has continued to expand awareness of and advocate for the value of play and play therapy through her clinical practice, lecturing a graduate course in play and art therapy, and conducting workshops for teachers and parents. With the support of anecdotal and case references, from her Jamaican experience, Marie will discuss play therapy within a cultural context, including how this is shaped by child socialization and patterns of parent-child interaction.

Playing and Learning with Blocks

This session offers an exploration of blocks as a central medium for young children's play. Block play allows children explorations in math, science, social studies, and language arts and involves problem solving, experimentation, negotiation, and other abilities crucial in child development. Focusing on unit blocks, but also including other building materials, we will examine through both discussion and experience how blocks play into these areas and abilities.

Reflecting on Our Own Play Spaces

We will gather in small groups to share the drawings of play spaces with which we are very familiar, either from our work or our own play experiences. What kinds of affordances do these spaces provide--in terms of space, materials, access? In light of our experiences together this week, how might we now think they could be altered or improved upon? This workshop will serve as preparation for Designing Play Spaces for Creativity and Imagination, immediately following.

When Playing is Therapeutic: An Overview

This session will serve as an introduction to the varied clinical presentations today by offering an overview of the many ways play processes are used in therapeutic interventions with children. Central questions to consider include the definition and scope of play in a given therapy, the functions play is seen as serving for the child in therapy, the special nature of playing in the therapeutic context, and the role(s) the therapist may play in working with the child. All of these factors vary depending on theoretical orientation, goals of the therapeutic intervention, and pragmatic aspects of the situation. The rich and often simultaneous multiple functions of play in therapy will be highlighted.


Lorayne Carbon, BA, SUNY Buffalo. MSEd, Bank Street College of Education. Director, Sarah Lawrence College Early Childhood Center, 2003-present. Former early childhood teacher, director, Oak Lane Child Care Center, Chappaqua, NY, and education coordinator of the Virginia Marx Children's Center of Westchester Community College. Former adjunct professor, Westchester Community College. As an advocate for play and its place both in and outside of the classroom, Lorayne has been a workshop leader at seminars and conferences on early childhood education including NAEYC and CCNY In Defense of Childhood, and engages in outreach at local area schools and community organization's through the Child Development Institute's Speaker's Bureau. Special areas of interest include social justice issues in the early childhood classroom and creating aesthetic learning environments for young children.

Jan Drucker, BA, Radcliffe College. PhD, New York University. Director, Child Development Institute's Empowering Teacher's Program, clinical and developmental psychologist with teaching and research interests in the areas of developmental and educational theory, child development, parent guidance, clinical assessment and therapy with children and adolescents, and the development of imaginative play and other symbolic processes in early childhood and their impact on later development. Professional writings have centered on various forms of early symbolization in development and in clinical work with children. Sarah Lawrence, 1972-present

Kim Ferguson BA, Knox College. MA, PhD, Cornell University. Psychology (2007-present) & the Art of Teaching (2010-present) faculty. She is a developmental and cultural psychologist with special interests in sustainable, community based participatory action research, cultural-ecological approaches to infant and child development, children at risk (children in poverty, HIV/AIDS orphans, children in institutionalized care), health and cognitive development, development in African contexts, and the impact of the physical environment on child development. Author of articles and book chapters on African and American infants' language learning, categorization and face processing, the built environment and physical and mental health, and relationships between the quality of southern African orphan care contexts and child development and health.

Jessica Loughlin is a Social Work Clinical Supervisor at New York Center for Child Development in Manhattan. She works directly with children and their families through EI and CPSE using the Floortime/DIR model.  She has worked with children ranging from those on the Autistic spectrum to children who have experienced trauma. For two years, Jessica also worked as a Mental Health Consultant in Harlem at a Head Start program working closely with the teachers to increase understanding of socio-emotional development.  She has a MA in Child Development from Sarah Lawrence College and an MSW from NYU.

Sarah Phillips Mathews, a graduate of Vassar College, also holds a Master’s degree in the Art of Teaching from Sarah Lawrence College. She is currently the Lead Teacher in the Fours Class and runs the Afternoon Twos Class and Parent Discussion Group at the Sarah Lawrence College Early Childhood Center where she has also taught Threes during the past twenty years. Her previous experience includes research at Children’s Hospital in Boston on early brain development, as well as teaching at the Harvard Law School Childcare Center and the Bank Street School for Children. Her main areas of interest are separation; conflict resolution and community building in the classroom; and block play, on which she leads a yearly graduate seminar.

Marie Reynolds is a clinical Social Worker and Paediatric Psychotherapist at Caribbean Tots to Teens, a multidisciplinary allied health centre for child and adolescent health and wellness in Jamaica, where she uses play, sandtray and other expressive therapies to address children’s emotional, behavioral, developmental and family concerns. She also uses filial play therapy to strengthen attachment and parent-child interaction. In her dedication to increasing children’s access to play and play therapy, Marie co-developed and delivered a graduate course in play therapy at the Mico University College, and has conducted a range of seminars and workshops for professionals and parents. She received her MSW from New York University, and also holds an MA in Interdisciplinary Studies (Counseling Psychology emphasis) from the Caribbean Graduate School of Theology.

Barbara Schecter is Director of the Graduate Program in Child Development at Sarah Lawrence College. She is a developmental psychologist with a special interest in cultural psychology, developmental theories, and language development. She is the author of "Development as an Aim of Education: A Reconsideration of Dewey's Vision" (Curriculum Inquiry, March 2011), as well as author and researcher on cultural issues in development and metaphoric thinking in children. She received her BA from Sarah Lawrence College and her MA and PhD from Teachers College Columbia University.