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  • Writer's pictureLaura Brown

Upcycle your Play

Who doesn't love a good upcycle?

There are so many ways to use and re-use common household objects for play and there is an even longer list of why this should be part of your early language therapy!

1. Using common items available in the child's home teaches parents how to support communication using things they already have. This gives parents the power to practice skills between sessions. Hint: when we use a toy in therapy, it tends to get all the credit!

2. Keeping it simple and getting creative with simple objects can open a parent's eyes to the opportunities for supporting language development that are all around them as they go about their day.

3. It's fun and teaches playfulness! Just look at this awesome list of ideas brought to you by a talented group of pediatric therapists :)

Grab a Blanket!

  • Pretend to go to sleep and wait for the child to come wake you up. Pop up and say "wake up!". Repeat and see if they'll take a turn sleeping. Practice waiting to see if they will initiate waking you up, imitating snoring and sleeping, and learning the phrases "night night" and "wake up!"

  • Turn the blanket into a magic carpet! Getting pulled on the blanket is great for working on postural stability, balance, and vestibular processing. Pulling the blanket is great heavy work, which is really calming and regulating to the nervous system.

  • Make a parachute. Put balls on top and practice popping them up and catching them. Pull the parachute up and try to run under it or sit down and pull the parachute over you. Practice "up" and "pop" and work on joint engagement during gross motor play.

  • Turn it into a swing! If you have two adults, each can hold two corners of the blanket while the child swings inside. This gentle movement is great for calming, or add a few bounces if the child needs to wake up a little more! It’s also a great time to sing and connect to the child!

Thanks to @the.well.balanced.ot for collaborating on these ideas. Follow Katie on Instagram for more ideas on how to support sensory needs and prioritize regulation during therapy.

Re-use a large plastic container!

  • Fill it up with balls or other toys, then dump them out. Get reciprocal play going by filling it up and letting them dump it. Practice "put in", "dump out", and "whoa!".

  • Play animal rescue! Drop a figure into the container and say "uh-oh!". Let them reach in and take it out. Practice "uh-oh!", "help", and "I did it!".

  • Put a favorite item inside, screw the lid on tight, and wait for the child to communicate. If they need support, model communicating with gestures, ASL signs, or words, and help them get the item out.

Recycle a shoe box!

  • Fill it up with rocks, dirt, leaves, or random household objects. As you find things, hold items up to show them and talk about them. Once it's full, you can practice "giving a leaf to mom" or "finding a big rock".

  • Make it into a bed for a doll or teddy bear. Practice laying them down, finding a blanket, and saying "night" "night"

  • Use it as a garage for cars, trucks, or buses. Practice vehicle noises, "in", "out", "stop", and "go".

Thank you to Liz from @letstalkplayfor contributing these ideas! Liz also shared the solo cup ideas below!

Play with solo cups!

  • Hide items underneath the cup and have the child look for them or guess where they are. Practice asking "where?" and answering yes/no to confirm if you found something when you flip a cup over.

  • Build a tower and knock it over or blow it over. Target reciprocal play by building it over and over and letting them knock it down or vice versa.

  • Make shakers by putting rocks or beads inside and taping them shut. Sing and dance together!

Grab a spatula!

  • Bang a pot or a piece of tubberware. Sing a song or vocalize with drumming noises. Practice imitating actions and sounds!

  • Pretend to stir and prepare food. Pretend to taste it and practice saying "mmm".

  • Use your imagination and pretend it's a wand.

Thank you to Alyssa @crescendotherapy for these fun ideas!

Upcycle a paper towel roll!

  • Turn it into a megaphone! Make silly sounds and see if the child will try to copy you.

  • Use it as a car ramp. Practice "ready, set... go!". See if the child can fill in the word "go".

  • Hold it up to your eye and play an "I spy" game. See if a younger child can find the item you say. Give clues to an older child and let them guess!

Thank you to Emily @tandemspeech for these ideas. Emily's book, Playing with Purpose, is available in print and digital formats. It is an excellent resource for any pediatric therapist using play-based therapy!

Want to see these ideas in action? Make sure to check out my Instagram Upcycle highlight @mommyandmemilestones. While you're there, make sure to follow some fabulous fellow SLPs and my favorite OT, Katie.





Thank you so much to these ladies for contributing. If you have an upcycle to add to this list, I would love to hear it! Tag me on social in your stories, post, or REEL so that I can share it: @mommyandmemilestones #upcycleplaychallenge

I can't wait to hear your ideas!

Play on!

Laura Brown, CCC-SLP


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