Make A Manipulation Box


A Take-Apart and Put Together manipulation box can work on many hand and cognitive skills such

  • Visual attention
  • Sequencing and completion concepts such as attaching or removing ALL materials on each side,  followed by turning the box to complete all 4 sides
  • Specific manipulations such as screwing caps or, ripping Velcro off backings
  • stabilizing with the “helper hand” and bilateral hand skills in general.

Using a large box means that the user is looking straight ahead rather than down at a desk or table. This is a better set-up in terms of promoting an erect posture and strengthening shoulders while reaching.  In addition, using a large box creates a “vertical surface” which decreases visual distractions since the materials are directly in front of the individual’s face.

Manipulation Materials

Manipulation Materials

The box shown above has a different type of manipulative on each side. However, I’m sure that there are many other options using either recyclable materials or purchased objects such as magnetic letters that attach to a metal cookie sheet secured to one side of the box.

Velcro strips

Experiment to determine what size sticky-back Velcro strips to use. Cover the sticky-back side with decorative contact paper or duct tape.

Longer strips require a bit more dexterity to attach. It would be easiest if the strips were all angled in the same direction (i.e. vertically or horizontally) as the red railroad tracks are below….  In addition, using strips positioned diagonally is great way to teach the concepts required to form letters such as  X, Y or W.

Screw Caps 

The screw caps shown in the above photos were left over from milk and juice cartons. These caps come in a variety of sizes and bright colors. Cut holes in the box that are large enough to wedge the threaded pieces. Secure with duct tape from inside the box.

The photo below shows an activity that I made that can be raised or angled according to the individuals needs. For example, use more caps if the individual has a longer  attention span. Some individuals may find it easier to attach and remove items on a board covered with only one type of item-  in this case screw caps.

Teaching individuals to remove or attach the bottle caps working left to right and top to bottom is optional… This may reinforce working left to right and top to bottom- in the same direction we read and form letters (in Western countries). Please click here for more details on activities using screw caps details….

Push/Pull Caps

The colorful caps shown in the feature photo and up above, are are often used on milk, cider and other jugs. Cut around the pouring spout and then wedge through the cardboard in the same manner that the screw caps were.

Magnets Inside Bottle Caps

I found round magnets that were a perfect fit to push securely inside the caps.  Simply attach a large cookie sheet to one side of the box so that the client may attach or remove these. Of course, any magnets would work, including magnetic jig-saw puzzle pieces and pictures with magnetic tape attached.

Separating a stack of magnets or in this case magnets inside caps- is a fun bilateral, sensory activity.  The board shown above was created by folding a cardboard box into a triangular shape and attaching a cookie sheet.

A few More Possible Manipulatives

  • Attach cord to the box to string or remove beads or similar objects. The clients in the following photo are using laminated pictures of money that have holes punched out for stringing.
  • Attach  foam to a cookie sheet on one side of the box. Magnetic pegs may be inserted or removed.
  • Attach a section of a shoe holder so that object can be inserted or removed from the pockets.
  • Attach straps such as that used for a dog leash or horse reins to one side of the box. Individuals may attach or remove clothes pins.

A Few Additional Thoughts

At my very first job working with adults with developmental disabilities, before ever having heard of the profession called occupational therapy, I watched individuals putting pegs in and out of peg boards….. repeatedly…. for hours! I teach staff that there should be many different activities offered and after one is completed, remove it and have someone else put the pieces back together. I want clients to feel like there is a beginning and an end to every task and when it is completed, they should feel a sense of accomplishment.  It is also confusing if one does not remember whether they are doing take apart or put together activities at any given moment. So, offer one of those options.

Removing the caps, Velcro strips, magnets etc. and inserting into the box is a much less demanding task than attaching. Offer take-apart  to people who are at a more basic skill level. Higher level clients should be attaching the pieces rather than taking them apart.  Some individuals find simple repetitive tasks calming and may WANT to do them repeatedly… Therefore, therapists and teachers need to individualize these activities….

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