Toys used for Lowenfeld's 'World Technique' therapy, London, England, 1920-1970


Miscellaneous section of figures, Box 27, taken from the Lowenfeld's 'World Technique' therapy collection. Consists of 1 book titled 'My Pets', 1 boat, roof missing (wooden), 1 haystack (metal), 1 flat wood piece with brown side, 2 wigwams (metal), 5 Flat figures, various (wood), 2 flat wood shapes, 1 metal swing, 1 fruit and flowers stall in 3 parts (wooden), 1 female figure under umbrella (wooden), 4 benches, 2 green, 2 white, various size (metal), 1 green stairs (metal), 2 fence, one orange, one white (metal), 4 log pulling carriages, various sizes (wooden), 1 lawn mower (metal), 7 Horses, various, 1 mouse riding dog - Mickey Mouse and Pluto (?), plastic, 1 bottle urinal (glass), 1 mirror, 1 sheet, triangle shaped (plastic), 2 fish, one green plastic, one very small wood, 1 dinosaur (plastic), 1 umbrella in red (wooden), 4 black cats (plastic), 2 birds, one duck, one chicken (plastic), 1 lion (plastic), 1 dog (plastic), 2 giraffes, one wood, one plastic head only, 1 rabbit (metal), 1 fox (metal), 1 goat (wood), 1 elephant head (plastic), 4 yellow baskets (metal), 1 snake head (plastic), 1 monkey (wood), 2 purses, small, 'City Bank' (plastic), 2 green beds in 2 parts each (metal), 2 diamond shaped dishes (metal), 1 pie (plaster), 1 pink dish (plastic), 1 white arrow (metal), 3 carts on wheels (wooden), 8 Figures, various, 1 chimney (metal), 1 head with red hat (wooden), 1 marble (glass), 3 plants various, small sizes, 1 grey frame (metal), 14 wheels, either joined as a pair or individual, 3 discs with food on (plaster), 1 table, legs missing, knifes on table (wooden), 22 green tiles, one with a small female figure attached, 18 tiles, one red the rest grey (metal), 1 'ice' kiosk, no wheels (wooden), 1 hand, small and flat (wooden) and 1 cardboard box filled with unidentifiable items.

What do toys have to do with trauma? In the years before the Second World War, Margaret Lowenfeld, a child psychiatrist in London, was looking for ways to help children express fears, anger, and family problems that they couldn’t say in words. At her clinic, she began experimenting with the use of small toys in a sand-box and gradually developed an approach she called ‘the World Technique’. This involved a large rectangular tray, sand and water for building a landscape, pieces of plasticine, and an extensive ‘library’ of miniature figures kept in dozens of drawers. Lowenfeld simply asked children to create a world, and observed what happened.

Her idea had parallels to Sigmund Freud’s theories of hysteria – where repressing traumatic memories could lead to psychological and physical symptoms. But Lowenfeld never regarded herself as a psychoanalyst. She always said her chief influences were the children she worked with and the novelist H.G. Wells. She attributed the idea behind the World Technique to a small book, published in 1911, in which Wells described how he had encouraged his two sons to construct elaborate ‘floor games’ out of miniature figures, such as toy soldiers and building blocks.

Other therapists carried on Lowenfeld’s methods in various ways. In the 1950s and 1960s, one psychoanalyst adapted the World Technique in order to encourage children and adults to develop their ‘inner selves’ in a safe, non-judgmental space. This approach became very popular among American psychotherapists under the name ‘Sandplay’. Later, in the 1960s, psychologists in Sweden standardised the World Technique into the ‘Erica Method’, which uses a set of 360 toys in various categories. The Erica Method has recently been used to study post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in Iranian refugee children in Sweden.

Related people


Psychology, Psychiatry & Anthropometry
Object Number:
toy - recreational artefact
  • furnishing and equipment
The Dr Margaret Lowenfeld Trust

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