We’ve all been there. It’s 7:50 am on a Tuesday and you’ve just finished that last-minute IEP, responded to 7 urgent emails, gulped that luke-warm cup of coffee that’s been on your desk all morning… and you have a group of kids showing up to your room for therapy in 10 minutes. Quick! Hide under the desk! Pray for a fire drill! Maybe ALL the kids will be absent today?

Don’t panic! In my experience, I have found several tried and true activities that can be easily adapted to help you in these darkest of times. Here are three of my favorite toys that  I can whip out of my beloved activities closet and are guaranteed to:

  1. Entertain even the most un-entertainable child
  2. Provide opportunities for multiple repetitions
  3. Encourage peer interactions and spontaneous discussions


Pop-Up Pirate


I have played this game more times than I can count, and I still get a little burst of excitement when the pirate finally pops! The materials are easily controlled by the therapist and, believe me, kids will work for their turn. Each turn is very quick which helps keep things moving. I also love that this game is a “luck-of-the-draw” game. It really helps to even the playing field when working with groups with different ability levels. Overall, this is a cute and easy game with easily controlled materials that will give you a lot of bang for your buck.


  • I’m not in love with the fact that the game uses “knives” or “swords”. I usually stick with having my kids request a color rather than having a bunch of 6-year-olds yelling, “I want a knife!”
  • Sometimes, sadly, the pirate does not pop out. We have a rule in my room, “don’t touch the pirate,” because when he gets moved during game-play he will not pop out.


Pass the Pigs


Looks like I have a thing for games with initial bilabials, eh? Pass the Pigs works best with older kids who can be a little more independent in their play. This game is intended to be played like Farkle, with the player accumulating their score and making the choice to risk it all and keep rolling or to “pass the pigs” and end their turn. I have tried to play it the “correct” way, and my kids prefer to just roll once and keep that score which is fine with me- quicker repetitions! Once the player rolls the pigs, they must refer to the scorecard to figure out their points for the round. As simple as it sounds, something about using tiny rubber pigs is just delightful for me and for my kids. I also love that if my returning kids are up for a challenge or bored with the original game, we can make it more difficult by playing by the real rules.


  • The scorecard guide that comes with the game is very small and somewhat confusing. However, there are some free printable scorecard options available that make things a bit more clear.
  • I used this game heavily for about 6 months and my little piggies are starting to show some wear and tear. The game still works fine, but their cute little pink noses and feet have rubbed off.



Let’s Go Fishin’


Did you ever make a fishing activity with paper clips and magnets when you were in graduate school? Let’s Go Fishin’  is ready to play and non-target specific, a win-win! It’s surprisingly hard to catch the fish so even my fifth graders like this! There are a lot of verbs that can be targeted during play: go, stop, catch, bite, spin, open, and close. Students are encouraged to produce spontaneous utterances (“I got blue fish”). You can also make each turn take as little time as you want if you want to use it as a reward for practicing a targeted skill. I usually give my kids 30 seconds to catch as many fish as they can. Overall, this game is great for spontaneous utterances and peer interaction and works well as a motivator!


  • It’s battery operated which, in my classroom at least, means it won’t be working for several months out of the year.
  • The fish can be pretty hard to catch which is frustrating for younger students or for students with fine motor deficits.


There are numerous toys and games and endless ways that we as SLPs can tweak these games to make therapy fun for our kids. The games provided above give you a lot of bang for your buck, and I hope you find them just as amazing as I do!


Author: Maggie Thiesen, SLP

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