How to Recycle for Fun Thematic Play

How to Recycle for Fun Thematic Play in Speech Therapy

Therapy doesn’t always have to be expensive if you creatively recycle and reuse materials you already own or have around the house! It also helps if you have garage sales in your neighborhood. And if you know people that have kids, don’t be afraid to ask them to let you go through their kids’ toys and books before they get rid of them! Here are 9 great tips for recycling, reusing, adapting, and organizing materials you already own!

adapt and reuse the supplies you already have in your speech therapy arsenal

Adapting items you already own does take a little time. But building up a supply of activities around a theme makes working with mixed-level groups so much easier! Being able to mix and match the materials for different groups’ needs also keeps you from having to do the exact same activity all day long.

These examples have a pet theme. So fun to do at any time of the year!

Tip 1: ORGANIZE So You Can Find It

Buy some inexpensive boxes to keep the toys and books you’ve found for each theme all in one place. Add to the theme as you find more inexpensive items. You will need a box once you start recycling household items.

speech-language therapy, pet theme

Tip 2: Adapt Some PUZZLES!

If you have students with low-level skills or minimal language, puzzles that have separate pieces are worth spending some money on.

Take photos of each puzzle piece. Make symbols from them for your nonverbal students to request with, or use them on an adapted communication pointing board for expanding language skills.

Students can:

  • Request the pet they want to place. (labeling)
  • Find the pet that makes the sound. (auditory skills)
  • Find the pet who swims, flies, etc.  (action vocabulary)
  • Find the pet who eats carrots, wears a collar, etc. (word association skills)
  • Request a black pet, a flying pet, etc. (describing)
  • Use the adapted communication pointing board to model and expand language skills.

puzzles in speech therapy, garage sales

Tip 3: Many BOOKS To Read and Adapt

Find varied books on that theme with different levels and great pictures. This will let you build literacy skills while choosing the book that is easiest to elicit the specific language each group is working on.

Tip 4: Add Symbols for ADAPTED BOOKS

Taping symbols over the book text to adapt it to be a simple repetitive book is simple to do. Just adapt the size of the symbols so that the original text is covered and use a wide roll of clear tape that extends past the paper to hold it firmly in place. The book in the photo is still in good shape after 20+ years. Don’t use school tape, though, as it will yellow and peel.

build play routines, speech language therapy


The book in the photo has repetitive text for what the pets eat. So that becomes the theme for interactive play using supplies you probably already own.  The problem was how to keep preschoolers from mouthing the pet foods yet still make play realistic?

Use craft glue to put small pieces of the foods at the bottom of empty, clean plastic fruit cups. It dries clear, keeping the pieces from falling out and kids from trying to eat them.

After each page, students put the toy animal in the matching food cup to ‘feed’ them. It makes reading fun and brings the language to life!

speech therapy play. pet themes

Tip 6: Combine Books, Recycled Materials, Adapted Worksheets, and Toys.

Having many items in the same theme to mix and match is so useful!

  • Therapy stays interesting.
  • There are lots of opportunities to label and use or expand language skills.
  • Combining items in different ways aids generalization.
  • Building skills with different play combinations helps students to develop symbolic play.

shoebox play, speech therapy


(Honestly, I am not a shoe shopaholic but little kids grow into new sizes quickly!)

Admittedly, it can be a pain to cut through shoeboxes, but they offer such inexpensive ways to incorporate hands-on fun with lots of language!

After warming up by labeling the pets with the puzzle, you can have some pretend play!

“The animals are inside, but they are hungry. Let’s take them out.”

 “Who wants to eat first?”

“I think I hear “meow.” What is it?

Let’s open the door!”

You can emphasize concepts, sentence structure, question words, auditory skills, you name it!

Students who are minimally verbal can respond using the pet symbols you made by taking photos of the puzzle pieces, or the puzzle pieces themselves. A communication board will let you visually model the language being used and expand your students’ expressive skills.

adapting worksheets for play


Worksheets with pictures are great to turn into hands-on activities.

In the photo, you can see examples of:

  • Sticker activities that are laminated and turned into a pet shop game. One set is an enlarged version so that the students had to specify the big/little pet.
  • Shape matching pages turned into a game.
  • Hidden picture pages put into a page protector to make a matching activity using pet symbols. The pictures of the hidden animal were colored in this set for a student who was just beginning to visually discriminate.
  • A trading card plastic page that was adapted with symbols for students to match the associated pet and say the sentence.

speech therapy, pet theme, adapted books


My school had Ellison cutters and construction paper available. Adding pet photos on the back before laminating made a simple game. Students requested the color cat or dog and then turned it over.

The visual support helped the minimally verbal students form a sentence while the more verbal students used correct grammar in their productions.

pet theme, speech language therapy, TPT

As always, TpT can save you so much time with high-quality materials!

Check out my pet themed activity bundle and add your own toys for some interactive fun!


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I’m Linda, an SLP who loves helping you build effective communication skills for your students using strategies and visuals. Pictures are time consuming, so let me make your life easier!

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