If you are working with small children in counselling or in a classroom setting, you are going to need more than worksheets and conversation skills – you’re going to need some toys. No 6 year-old wants to just sit around and talk about their problems – and often times younger kids don’t have the ability to do so, even if they would want to. Children learn and they work their problems out in play. Even older children will likely at least want an activity to do with their hands while they talk to you.
While we all might long for a beautiful, Pinterest-worthy playroom the reality is that many of us work for non-profits, for school boards, or for ourselves. We’re in a scenario where we are buying and preparing our own supplies and we want to get the most value for our money when it comes to finding play items. So here are 10 places you can find affordable therapy toys.
1) Dollar tree and Dollarama: Both of these are dollar stores. In Canada, Dollar Tree sells all items for 1.25, whereas Dollarama has items up to $4. Due to the range in prices, some of the selection does vary between these stores. Dollar stores are great for pretty much anything you can think of. They have tons of craft supplies and games. I bought a great little miniature Jenga set at Dollar Tree just the other day. I have also bought checkers and snakes and ladders at Dollarama. Other items include decks of cards, stress balls, stuffed animals, dolls, colouring books, little animals for sand tray and even small Lego sets. Sometimes the items are of lower quality than you would find elsewhere, however. For example, the stores generally carry a generic brand of Lego and the quality is not as good as the name-brand. I have found that some blocks in a set do not stick as well, and that can be frustrating if you are working with a child who does not regulate their emotions well. So if you are on a tight budget, you may want to purchase some higher quality items second-hand rather than buying them from a dollar store.
2) Facebook Buy and Sell groups: You can get amazing deals in Buy and Sell groups on items that have been pre-loved. Dollhouses, blocks, cars and trucks – you name it and you can pretty much find it. If you can’t find a specific item, you can always make an “In Search Of” post in one of these groups, and you will probably get a response from someone in your area wanting to clear out some toys. This is a great place to get some of those items that might cost a little bit more in stores. For example, I got a garbage bag of mega blocks for about $5 off one of these sites and a Little people playhouse and dolls for only $10.
3) Ikea: This store may be a little surprising, if you think of Ikea as a place to get furniture and redo your kitchen. But they do have a toy section, and I have found that it is generally filled with some of the classic toy items that are so useful in the playroom. I found a set of finger puppets there a few years ago that had all kinds of different characters in it, perfect for child therapy. They have lots of wooden toys, train sets, dolls, kitchen toys, most of which are good quality items that will last for a long time. I don’t think I have ever seen any trendy, television-based toys in their toy section, which is another benefit if you don’t just want your client re-enacting their favourite episode of Dora the Explorer.
4) Walmart: I know many people do not like Walmart, but it is certainly an option when it comes to buying therapy toys at low cost. Generally speaking, their toys are a step up in quality from a lot of the items you will find at dollar stores. Walmart also has a bigger selection of toys and games that you can chose from. They will at times have great sales on products, and they also have off-brand products which, although more expensive than the dollar store, are still cheaper than name brand. I bought a full size Tumbling Tower game there for $10 when the name brand Jenga would have cost me a lot more.
5) Michaels/Other craft stores: I don’t generally frequent Michaels for therapy supplies, mainly because the items are so pricey and I can find alternatives in other places. However, if you are doing crafts with your therapy clients, Michael’s does tend to beat out other stores like Dollarama and Walmart when it comes to selection. The other benefit of Michael’s is that often times you can get a 40 or 50% off coupon on the store’s website that may actually make the product cheaper there than elsewhere.
6) Thrift stores: Thrift stores like Good Will, Value Village, or Salvation Army are hit and miss. On the one hand, they have tons of pre-loved toys at great prices, but on the other hand there is never a guarantee that you will find what you want. I find it’s best to go in to the thrift store without any must-buys in mind for that particular visit – otherwise you might be disappointed. Instead, you may want to keep a wish-list and swing by the toy section whenever you find yourself in or by your local thrift store to see if you can cross some items off your list.
7) Garage sales: Buying items from garage sales presents the same benefits and challenges as purchasing from thrift stores. You will likely find items even cheaper than in a thrift store, but again, you will have no guarantees of finding any one item at a specific garage sale. Another drawback is that garage sales tend to be seasonal – at least here in Canada – so you will have little luck in January.
8) Online retailers: Internet-based retailers like Amazon or Ebay give the advantage of tremendous variety, beyond what you might be able to find in local stores. On these sites you can often find better deals, better selection, and you can save your gas mileage as items are shipped to your home. Due to the convenience and cost benefits, I generally will at least look online for a comparison before I buy anything in store. That said if you need an item for a session tomorrow, you will be paying a high shipping cost to get next-day shipping from one of these retailers.
9) Kijiji/Craigslist – Sites like Kijiji or Craigslist offer more pre-loved items. These are great places to shop for some of your larger play items or even furniture like play tables, for which you might be reluctant to pay full retail price in stores. You can search the ads by area, making this option as close and convenient as you like. You can also find advertising for garage sales on these sites which can help you narrow down your Saturday morning shop to sales that you know have children’s items. You may even be able to send a email off to the host of the garage sale to ask for more details about what kinds of children’s toys they will be selling.
10) Do-It-Yourself: DIYs are one of my favourite sources of toys and resources for the counselling room. Re-purpose what you have or make your own items and you will end up with something that is exactly what you need and want. In a previous post, I showed how I use a seashell collection to make an affirmations activity for kids. I also have a lot of handouts and printable items, game boards and activities that I can use. Many of these we have made available for free here on our site, so feel free to take a look around. You can make these items reusable by getting yourself a $20 laminator if you don’t already have one or taking it to a store that will do the laminating for you.
So there you have 10 places to find affordable toys for use in therapy. Hopefully you found a couple of new places to look when you are stocking or restocking your playroom.
Join the Conversation:
Where do you like to find toys for your counselling or playroom? What is the next therapeutic toy you want to add to your counselling tools?