Play is the language of children.
Therefore it is a great way to communicate with children in a fun, safe and inclusive environment.
All sessions are private and confidential, parents/carers can either be in the playroom with us or wait in the sitting room. Siblings are welcome and we have a play area for them as well. At this stage all booking are made my phone and I'm happy to answer any questions you have. I am not registered with NDIS yet but plan to by the end of 2021. I am able to send invoices and receipts for those that are self managed. There is an extra cost for Animal Assisted Play Therapy. Please refer that section for further information.
For any children that enjoy being around animals, then adding dogs or horses in the sessions can be a wonderful extra element of playfulness.
Our horses and dogs have been around children as part of the therapeutic riding lessons for several years and are safe, friendly, curious, playful and highly motivated by treats, hugs and love.
As part of play therapy sessions we do not offer horse riding as this is a separate program. Please refer to my other website heartwoodhorses.com.au
There are many benefits of including animals in sessions which I go into more detail in the following section, which you can find my clicking the more info button below. Not only do many children enjoy being around animals and have fun working with them, they find them great company and might even feel safer or mare relaxed with them than with a adult/therapist alone.
Even if your child is wary or even frightened of animals we can help with their concerns and enhance their ability to feel safe and even enjoy being with animals.
For any children that love to move, play music or want to learn how to be calmer and stiller then I can cater for them as well. I love to play music and have fun dancing. I offer some African drumming, and I have a fun range of other instruments to play with. Movement and music are very good for developing rhythm, co-ordination and balance. The speed can be fast and energising or slow and relaxing.
I am also a trained Yoga Therapist so I can offer body awareness, breath work, mindfulness and relaxation. If the child has trouble being still, anxious thoughts, relaxing and/or sleeping then I can help.
What exactly is Play? Play is what children do naturally when all their basic needs are being met and they feel safe and cared for. They can then explore the world through play, making friends and learning social skills, develop gross and fine motor skills, co-ordination, language, problem solving, develop imagination, creativity and generally have fun and enjoy themselves. All play is incredibly valuable but the most important type is when it is child initiated and led. Adults are strongly advised to join the play and spend quality time with the children but it is the most developmentally powerful when it is all about what they want to do. They are encouraged to make choices and do what they enjoy the most.
Children can use play to express themselves when they don’t have the language skills to do so, as they live at a level that is less in the higher thought processes since their brains are still developing. They are more often at a level that is more instinctual, emotional and reactive. They live more in the day to day and can derive pleasure in the simple things and be open to new experiences and ideas.
They spend their whole childhood finding out who they are and understanding what they enjoy doing and what they are naturally good at. Adults in their lives can have an great impact on children as they develop, to help them gain awareness about who they are and guide then in finding a path for adulthood.
But not all children have the same ability to play naturally and not all children grow up in an environment that stimulates play. What is being understood now at a much greater level is the high importance of children to play frequently to help them develop.
Play Therapy can achieve many things. The first role is to develop a child’s ability to play when this is not something they have been able to do naturally, due to developmental issues or they have not lived in an environment that has enabled a lot of free play. A play therapist can encourage and enhance a child’s ability to play which then helps them with all the skills mentioned previously. Not only is learning how to play encouraging children to have fun, it is multi-layered and helps them to develop many of the skills to cope with a lot of other parts of their lives that can be less fun such as education, understanding social skills, emotional regulation, communication, even relaxing and sleeping. Play Therapy can help children in all these areas of their lives in a very fun non-directive way. We find out what the child likes to do and doesn’t find too challenging and we build on those interests and skills. My specialisations are using animals as part of the therapeutic program as well as movement and mindfulness. There is more information about the benefits of these areas in their own sections.
The other wonderful part of play therapy is that children can communicate though their play. Communicating with language is very challenging for children (and many adults) especially for difficult experiences, thoughts and emotions. Play is a very non-direct way to communicate. Once the child feels safe and can relax with me and in our play space (and this can take a few sessions) them the children can in their own time and way, start to express anything they feel they would like to in a very compassionate and nonjudgmental environment. Direct questions are very limited and we are just open and interested in them as a person and have a deeply held belief that given the right support then can work through what they need to and become happier and healthier little people.
More information for health professionals and families.
The benefits of play for children has been studied for some time and has developed in a range of modalities. I am trained as a Humanistic Play Therapist with a focus on Child Centred Play Therapy (CCPT). It was found that traditional therapies developed for adults did not work well with children, especially if they were based on a Cognitive understanding of what they had been though or still living as a dependant of adults still. Since health problems, trauma and inappropriate care given affects the child at every level of development but especially as their brain develops, then the therapy they receive must be aimed at where they are developmentally and in their zone of proximal development.
As play therapy is child led and not focused on the use of language skills, children are still able to connect with and communication with the therapist is a very non-threatening and client centered way. Even developing their play ability develops physical and cognitive capacities that will enhance many other areas of their life.
I have been working with children with a variety of needs and experiences for over 10 years in my horse riding school, using the horses as my therapeutic tool with great success, which is why I chose to train as a Play Therapist. I have also worked in Schools for over 10 years as a lab assistant in a high school and as coordinator of a school outside care program. This required managing and working with a wide range of ages, personalities and skill sets. The Outside School Care Program is a very play based program and has given we wonderful experience working with primary school aged children in a school setting.
I am also a parent of two adult children with my daughter training to be a Occupational Therapist and assists me from time to time when suitable. I am also a qualified yoga therapist so I am able to work with the children on emotional regulation. I can help them to improve their breathing, improve their ability to relax, improve their proprioception and interoception. I can work on sensory processing and ability to manage energy levels and over or under activity.
I have a good understanding of how trauma, neglect etc as well as some of the common psychopathologies affects the body and the unconscious mind. I understand how they affect brain development and what is normal development and what is affected at certain ages and in certain areas.
Even though I am only a newly graduated play therapist, I believe that all these skills and experiences allows me to offer a very professional, kind, caring, understanding and effective service for clients and their families.
Many humans enjoy the company of animals and children even more so. Dogs are an accepted and valued member of many families as they provide friendship, companionship and someone to play with and exercise with. In general dogs are very accepting animals that live for the present moment and always seem to find the best in people. They are unassuming, non-judgemental, affectionate, playful, caring and just love positive attention and affection. They are non-verbal so they mostly communicate with body language and many children can read the obvious signs such as a wagging tail or an invitation to play. We can include the dog/s in sessions indoors and outdoors and the dogs can just be a passive member of the team, assist in the play or feature in the play.
Horses have a gentle, peaceful and mindful way of being. They are very emotionally intelligent and can support people both physically emotionally and mentally on your path to better health and wellbeing. Horses have been used to help humans for many thousands of years but more recently is a formal way as therapy assistants. Some of the similarities as working with dogs is that they are living in the present moment, they are also unassuming and non-judgemental. They are also non verbal but as prey animals, they are much more sensitive to body language and energy levels. Horses naturally always live in herds and are always very attuned to every member of the herd. Their need to feel safe in the human world is a much more powerful motivator than dogs (who are predators like us) and therefore are very useful when working with issues of safety, self protection, awareness, connection and trust and communication. You have to earn a horses trust where as a dog often offers if from the start. Many humans find a special connection to horses and once a friendship has formed they can be wonderful companions. They can become the protector and the guide. They can also be curious, playful and funny but not until they feel loved, respected and understood. This of course reflects what we offer the children in our care.
Playing musical instruments and moving and dancing are fun activities that help with physical and mental health. Playing music can take focus and concentration or be silly and fun. It can be loud and crazy or peaceful and calming. It is very sensory and but the client has total choice of what they play and how they play it. No musical talent or skills are required. Drums are the instrument that are the easiest to have fun with straight away but we have a few other options. Smaller instruments can be carried while moving or dancing and even singing it totally encouraged. We also have recorded music if suitable but mostly we will just make our own. The vibration of musical instruments and singing can be very therapeutic if done harmoniously. The singing of certain sounds has been used for thousand of years in yoga practice and music and dancing are used by all countries and cultures around the world for community connection, ceremony, enjoyment and story telling.
As a yoga therapist and with Leah training as an OT we understand the importance of movement, body awareness, balance, coordination and sense of space. My training as a yoga teacher and therapist means that I have a deep understanding of the benefits of coordinated movement that can be enhanced my sound. Rhythmical movement and sound can increase resonance within a persons body and mind. Everything can feel more connected an in sync.
We can also offer sessions that are very calming and relaxing. For clients that are not comfortable enough to play and be themselves then this is certainly a way to help them feel more peaceful and safe. Mindfulness is about just being present in the moment and leaving worries and stresses aside for the time they are here. Sometimes it can just be focusing on the breath, other times we can use different techniques such as walking slowly or patting an animal.
For clients that are interested we can even practice some relaxation techniques. This might involve lying down like in a yoga class but if that is not suitable we have other strategies.
Parents are carers are able to join in these sessions at the clients discretion. What ever helps them is what we will recommend. Many techniques you can practice at home with the client to develop their skill set when they are not with a therapist and they can start to manage their own feelings and emotions.
To begin with we start with an informal meeting with the parent/carer to find out what they would like help with, and obtain some information about the client. We allow an hour for the intake meeting. This usually takes place here at Heartwood House after completing an Intake Form which I will send to you. This is done without the client present so the conversation can be honest and open. If we feel that the service I can provide meets the need of the client then the next step is for me to do an assessment of the client.
This takes place at Heartwood House and I also allow one hour, but it might take less than that. I spend some time with the client just one to one and the parent can be in the waiting area, or in the play room with us if that is what the client prefers. The assessment chosen varies with age, with three main ones most commonly used explained below.
Children aged 1 to 5 years: I use an assessment tool known as the Pretend Play Enjoyment Developmental Checklist (PPE-DC). (1)
This assessment tool was developed by Dr. Karen Stagnitti (1) and focuses on a child’s ability to pretend play. The age range was chosen by the developer because much of the development of pretend play happens in this age bracket. (2)
Children 3 to 7 years: I can use the Child Initiated Pretend Play Assessment (ChIPPA). (3)
Also developed by Dr. Karen Stagnitti, it is measuring the child’s organisational skills level of complexity in pretend play. The two stages are firstly assessing conventional—imaginative play with simple toys that have an obvious role. The next stage is assessing symbolic play with materials that don’t have an obvious use. (3)(4)
Children aged 8 to 15 years: I can use an assessment tool known as the Animated Movie Test (AMT). (5)
Also developed by Dr. Karen Stagnitti. It assesses self-initiating pretend play ability in school aged children with an element of storytelling. (6)
This assessment is then used to plan for the sessions with the client, to find out what they are interested in and areas of their play ability that might need some development. The sessions are designed to increase a child’s play ability.
At the end of the allotted number of sessions, the client can be assessed again to see what improvements have been made in their play ability. This will determine if the intervention has been successful and that sessions can be completed. Hopefully family members, educators and friends will notice an improvement in some of the skills mentioned previously that benefit from play, and the client can lead a happier, healthier and more satisfactory life.
The assessment is used as part of the Learn to Play Program (7) to assess what stage the child is developmentally, using the checklist and referencing to a chart of normal child development. This gives the therapist and parents/carers a guide to what areas the child might need assistance to promote good neurological development. (8)
The benefits of children improving their ability to play is vast and invaluable, from physical abilities to cognitive function. Children play before they can walk and talk. It is how they discover the world, it is how they socialise and it is how they learn.
It develops physical skills such as gross motor and fine motor skills, balance, coordination, even rhythm and timing. When playing with others they learn social skills such as sharing, communication, self-expression and compassion. Emotionally they can experience enjoyment, fulfilment, excitement, curiosity, contentment as well as practicing self-regulation and resilience. Cognitively they can improve problem solving skills, creativity, decision making, abstract thought, understanding things from some else’s perspective, use of language, focused attention, storytelling, literacy skills, memory and improve self-esteem. (9-13)
Make believe or pretend play is complex play and is a way for children to express how they see and process their world. (1) Being able to pretend a toy is alive or that a box or block can become a myriad of things is showing a child’s ability to use their imagination. The level a child is able to pretend play shows their stages of brain development, which the therapist can then focus on to find any areas that might be delayed for their age due to a wide range of influences. (14)
PLAY SESSIONS: The sessions take an hour and preferably are attended weekly to see consistent development in skill levels.
When planning an intervention using the Learn to Play Program, the therapist focuses on six key areas of pretend play;
Children develop these skills as they play and meet general milestones with age. These assessments look for any gaps in these expected stages and give the therapist areas to focus on in the Learn to Play Program. (7) The program starts with a more directive approach where the therapist encourages and even role models some play activities. As the child develops skills, confidence and enjoyment in their play, then the play becomes more spontaneous and self-initiated. (7) Toys are chosen that are of interest to the child, then as they build their skills, less structured toys are used and more generalised materials can be used to generate some creativity. (10) For example play doh can become food and boxes can become beds. The therapist role is to add small challenges to the play to extend the child in their thinking and actions. It takes good awareness and attunement from the therapist to engage the child in play and then stretch their abilities within their zone of tolerance so that the experience is still fun and keeps them interested while guiding their play skills to a more appropriate level.
In my situation the learn to play program might even incorporate the use of our dogs or even our horses. Animals that feel safe, relaxed and self-confident can be quite playful and might be able to encourage clients to play, that are not able to initiate play on their own. (15) Many children enjoy being with animals and if the dogs or horses are engaging and playful then the children might enjoy incorporating then into their pretend play. The dogs might take on a role such as a police dog or super hero, or a pony could become a unicorn or a dragon.
Trees develop a hard, dense spine-like wood that gives the tree a solid foundation around which to grow; this core is referred to as ‘heartwood’. The heartwood not only gives trees strength and longevity, but also the flexibility to be moulded by the elements. My hope is to help build strong and resilient children that are flexible enough to face life’s battles.
This is a family owned business and farm and we have all had horses all of our lives. It is a peaceful play to visit and spend time with our equine and canine family members.
Kim is the owner of Heartwood Health and has been running Heartwood Horses for over 10 years giving lessons to children in a very kind and gentle way for the horses and the children, therefore I have been working with children with special needs for many years. I thoroughly enjoy working with these kids and loved seeing the wonderful affects and horses and even the dogs would have on these children.
This led me on the path the studying Play Therapy which I will complete at the end of 2021. This will give me so much more ability to work with children that need that extra special care and skills.
The training in Animal Assisted Play Therapy (AAPT) gives me the ability to combine two wonderful therapy tools, Play Therapy and Animals, mainly horses and dogs.
Tuesday 9am to 1pm
Wednesday 9am to 1pm
Thursday 9am to 1pm
Friday 9am to 1pm
Saturday 10am to 3pm
For the canine and equine team please see the gallery below. Their names will come up as you scroll over them.
Leah is my daughter and has been helping me with lessons for several years. She now works every week assisting me with the therapy riding lessons and is a valuable, kind and caring part of the team.
Certificate 3 in Early Childhood and Education
Currently studying Occupational Therapy.
I have a Graduate Diploma in Therapeutic Child Play.
I am studying my Masters of Child Play Therapy at Deakin University and will finish at the end of 2021.
I have completed Level 1 training with the International Institute of Animal Assisted Play Therapy.
I am a registered student at the Australasia Pacific Play Therapy Association (APPTA) and will be registered as a Play Therapist when I complete my studies.
I am a Qualified Yoga Instructor and Yoga Therapist with Dru Yoga Australia.
I am a trained Positive Psychology Coach
I Have my Cert IV in Training and Assessment.
Level 2 First Aid Accredited.
Here at Heartwood Horses we have a separate house on our farm specially built for play therapy with its own playroom. We also have plenty of room for playing with the dogs and horses outside, including a large undercover area and a horse playground.