Second Hand Treasures: Commonly Found Toys for Speech Therapy

October 5, 2016
Kathleen Callaghan, CCC-SLP
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Whether you’re a brand new clinician trying to stock a therapy room on a tight budget (hello, student loans!) or an experienced practitioner who needs some new toys to spice up sessions with long-standing clients, second hand shops* should become your new second home.  In fact, they can be such a goldmine of toys, games, and books it’s surprising that second hand stores all around the country aren’t overrun with SLPs every weekend!

While not as organized or pretty as traditional toy and book stores, and you often have to sift through a lot of junk to find the treasures, second hand shops are nonetheless worth the trip every so often.  You’d be surprised what you can score for a fraction of the cost of buying it new.  And once you “know” the layout of your local second hand store(s), you can pop in, do a quick scan for possible treasures, and get out in a matter of minutes.

We’ve put together a list of our favorite second hand finds that get used by clients of all ages at The Hello Clinic. We have divided our list into 4 sections: Commonly Found Toys, Games and Other Fun Stuff, Treasures, and Toys to Avoid.  This first post will talk about the commonly found toys, and posts in coming weeks will feature the other three categories. There are no affiliate links in this post, just links to give you an idea of what we're talking about. Let's get started!

second hand toys for Speech Therapy commonly found toys

Commonly Found Toys

Play Animals

What can’t you do with play animals?  Some of our ideas are to match the animals with the song Old MacDonald, hide them in play dough, put them in/out of containers (the little littles love putting things in and taking things out), and lots and lots of pretend play.  You will get a ton of mileage out of having a wide variety of animals, including farm, jungle, sea, and air types.  We will often match animals up with books to bring the read alouds to life, and some favorites are Brown Bear Brown Bear, Good Night Zoo, The Very Busy Spider, and Dear Zoo.  Almost any speech-language target can be met using play animals, and if you can find “settings” like a play farm or jungle scene to go with them, even better!


We love vehicles.  And so do our clients - especially little boys. Sometimes cars and other vehicles can be such a distraction (or isolating activity) that we have to remove them all from our rooms, so an easy-to-move bin from a dollar store can come in handy for storage.  But for our kiddos who can engage with cars and people at the same time, we use vehicles to target: joint attention; expressive language (e.g. crash!, ready set go!); articulation (especially that pesky fronting pattern); descriptors (e.g. colors, size, modifiers); prepositions and opposites (e.g. on/off, open/close, in/out); and all tenses of verbs (drove, drive, will drive). Our extra tip - stop by IKEA and grab a cheap car play mat to go with your stash of vehicles.

Music Instruments

Drums, shakers, microphones, xylophones - all are fun toys for working on skills such as: turn-taking (e.g. My turn to shake! Your turn to shake!”), imitation (microphones are super motivating for this skill - you say a sound/word into the microphone and then the child copies); verbs/action words (e.g. hit, bang, drum, shake); patterning/sequencing (e.g. teaching a simple rhythmic pattern or song); and pacing for kids who have a stutter or need to slow down their rate of speech (drums work especially well for this). In addition for “themed” instruments (e.g. we have a “bee” shaker and a “bug” xylophone), we might use the instruments for pretend play. For example, having the bee “sting” the child or the bug “crawling” up their leg.

Early Toddler Toys

Anything that spins or pops up - or both - is sure to be a winner with the toddler crowd.  Some of our favorites are the Playskool Tumble N Twirl, the Winnie the Pooh Spinning Honey Pot, and the Super Spiral Play Tower.  These are great for early language skills, including production of the words/signs for “more,” “go,” “again,” “play,” and “all done.”  Receptively, use these toys to support kids who are learning to follow basic 1-2 step directions. In addition, these toys are conducive to working on early social/play skills such as waiting, eye gaze (e.g. wait until the child looks at you to indicate the desire for another turn), and joint attention.

Toddler Puzzles

Think simple puzzles, such as ones with limited pieces or that have specified spaces for each piece (like this Melissa and Doug animal puzzle).  These are great motivators and allow you to target sounds, signs, or words for “more,” “puzzle,” “want,” and “all done.”  We also use puzzles like this quite a bit for busy, easily distractible kids during testing -- complete a set amount of tasks on the assessment and “earn” a puzzle piece!  For our kiddos who like order and routine-oriented tasks, puzzles are a good way to work on joint attention, turn-taking, and initiation.  In addition, having a variety of puzzles with animals, food, transportation, etc. can support building vocabulary skills.

Piggy Banks and Other In/Out Toys

As mentioned above, toddlers love to put things into containers and to take them out. Love. So we make sure to have a few items around such as toy piggy banks and “cookie jars” that are made just for this purpose. Anything that fits in the opening slot makes its way in.  These are great toys for working on early signs and verbal language, as they are conducive to words such as: open, close, more, in, out, and want.  Turn-taking is another skill that can be targeted with these toys, as is learning how to choose purposefully between two items.


What do you think? Have something to add to the list? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter! And stay tuned in a couple of weeks when we add our favorite games, books, and other fun stuff to this list.

* While a bit more spendy than second hand shops, kids consignment stores can also be a great place to score some quality finds. For example, we nabbed a 72-piece marble run (and marbles) at a local Portland consignment store for only $12 ($40 on Amazon).  The marble run has become one of the most popular toys for many kids at the clinic and even made the cut for one of our Favorite Toys videos!