Sunshine Circles

Developing Social-Emotional Skills 

with Theraplay® Sunshine Circles  

We have run a pilot project in a Primary School funded by a grant

With thanks to our funder for the grant to fund a pilot of Sunshine Circles in a primary school. This has allowed us to develop online training and support sessions and to run a pilot project.

Due to the various restrictions that the pandemic has forced upon us we felt that it made sense to develop the training to be delivered online as well as providing support sessions. This will prepare staff to deliver the sessions to the children themselves. Weekly feedback/review and feed-forward/planning sessions will be held. 

Read on to find out more....

T had been swearing, hitting out, pushing, kicking, throwing toys, etc. It was evident that he has experienced a great deal of overwhelm this week and has struggled to feel safe in school. He has frequently requested Sunshine Circles nurture activities this week, such as the blanket, the lotion and the Froob and straw.

Additional Learning Needs Co-ordinator

Introducing Theraplay® and Sunshine Circles .....

Here are some useful video clips. We ask that you watch them before starting your training with us. You can also use them as a memory jogger or to share with others who may be interested in what you are doing. 

Theraplay® - an overview

Sunshine Circles - an introduction

The Sunshine Circles project .....


We plan the project with a member of the Senior Leadership Team as well as the staff who will be involved in the project. We have learned that careful planning and wise choices at this stage, including which staff will work with the children and when and where, are critical to the success of the project.  

Preparation and training

We provide initial training for the school staff around the impact of attachment difficulties. We give an overview of the Theraplay® model, including the four dimensions of Nurture, Structure, Engagement and Challenge, and an introduction to the Sunshine Circles session structure and activities. This is ideally run as one session of 3 hours.

Staff complete the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) for each child pre-intervention to act as a baseline. Some schools have also used the Boxall Profile or Thrive assessments. 

Week 1

We had a further session to discuss the needs of the children and the format of the Sunshine Circles sessions. We provided a session plan for the first week that we had produced using what we learned from the staff. We showed video clips of the activities, as done in therapy sesions, and discussed how these might look in a small group session in a school. After the planning session staff were emailed the session plan, a prompt sheet for the schedule/plan to put up on the wall during the session, and a memory jogger sheet with key information about each activity. Throughout that week the staff can then deliver the programme to the children.

Weeks 2-5

We met with school staff online on Monday afternoons to discuss the feedback forms they had provided to us following their Sunshine Circles session/s the previous week. 

We jointly planned the session for the week ahead, showing video clips of potential activities and discussing which would best suit the needs of the children they were working with. As the weeks went on and the confidence of staff increased, they played a greater role in the planning of sessions. This was completed jointly online and shared via email afterwards. 

Week 6

We discussed the feedback forms they had provided to us following their Sunshine Circles session/s the previous week. Staff then shared what they had planned themselves for the session/s for this week using the now very familiar format. They discussed how they had decided which activities to use and why, relating their choices both to the children’s needs and the four dimensions of Theraplay.

End of week 6

We discussed the feedback forms provided to us following their last Sunshine Circles session this week. We also discussed the needs of the children going forwards and how these might be met. It was already apparent that the children with more complex needs would benefit from continued opportunities to access Sunshine Circles. Staff can also identify other chidlren they feel would benefit from Sunshine Circles and receive support in planning their next group. 

Staff complete the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) for each child post-intervention and and can score these and compare them with the pre-intervention SDQ scores. 

Support sessions

After half term we provided follow-up and support sessions to check in with staff to see how they were getting on both with the existing group and also the new group of children. This supported staff in consolidating their knowledge and skills and provided support for any new or different issues or challenges brought by either group. 

End of intervention report

Staff may complete the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) again for each child one-month post-intervention and this data can be added to the post-intervention report. This report can then be shared with the Senior Leadership Team of the school and an anonymised version from the pilot project was provided to our funder. 

"Much more settled on a class level – much more cooperative, asking questions and not wandering as much. More engaged in class activities and responding well to all class staff."

Class teacher