What was your inspiration for your play therapy toys “Alma Therapy Dolls”?
Several years ago, I worked at a boarding school for at-risk children. The children at the school were dealing with emotional problems as a result of neglect and lack of love, as well as physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. While working there I witnessed the tremendous pain and difficulties that these children were facing every day. I wanted to design something that could help lessen their pain, if only a little. At the school, I learned various therapeutic methods, including Play Therapy. Play therapy is based on the principle that a child is capable of healing himself if he has the right conditions for it.
I did some research and was surprised to learn that to this day generic toys are being used for treatment of children with emotional problems, even though the therapist’s and the patient’s needs are very different from what regular toys can provide. This was my motivation for the project: to design therapeutic toys that are tailor-made for the treatment of children with emotional problems in order to make it easier for them to connect to their inner world and heal their soul.
Why are your Alma Therapy Dolls especially suited for children?
The dolls are specially made for children and children actually took part in the design process. During the project I designed around a hundred different samples of dolls and at every step of the process I asked a group of children to play with the sample dolls in order to see how the kids would react to them and which parts of the dolls they would connect with, before moving on with my design. Additionally, the materials the dolls are made of are maple wood and flexible polyurethane – both materials are important for working with children. Wood is a natural material that conveys warmth, calm, serenity, security and is smooth and pleasant to the touch. The flexible parts encourage touching and feeling. The dolls are more abstract because the idea behind the abstraction of the dolls is that each child can pour into the doll his own emotions. All the dolls are open for interpretation, which depends on the treatment method and the child’s backstory.
How children respond to your play therapeutic toy?
Children love playing with my dolls. They enjoy touching the dolls and playing with the flexible parts. Kids are fascinated by the fact that the parts can move, and they love caressing them and experiencing the sensations that the dolls provide. What I like the most about my dolls is that each child responds differently to the dolls and plays with them in his or her own unique way.
A few personal questions at the end: What toys did you play with as a child? Did you have a favorite toy?
As a young girl I really loved making blanket forts and pretend houses for myself. I would take blankets and clothespins and transform a whole room into a big camp.
And subsequently: What toy do you think is completely superfluous?
I can’t put my finger on one specific toy that I consider to be superfluous, but I do think there are many toys that are meaningless. A toy is a wonderful tool through which many important life lessons can be taught – both to children and the adults around them. I think toys need to be more meaningful, educational and add more value to children’s lives.
If you could look into a crystal ball and predict your future as a toy designer: what children’s toy would you like to design next?
Previously, I have designed a set of three wooden dolls intended to teach girls and boys, through joined play to acknowledge and love a wide range of skin colors and body shapes. I would like to continue designing collections of children’s toys, where the toys will focus on a different topic that is important for me to talk about – topics that I want to educate children about from a young age. From a design perspective, I would like to develop more toys made of wood in combination with other new and exciting materials.