The following bilateral sensory activities are easy to individualize, age appropriate for both children and adults and can be used in a variety of settings. The illustrations are from my book The Recycling Occupational Therapist. Materials needed include
- large plastic soda bottles,
- duct tape,
- nylon or other smooth cord and
- handles cut from detergent bottles.
You may individualize by using smaller or larger bottles with just the right size pouring spouts to grasp. Decorate the connected bat with stickers, tape or by gluing on fun items such as feathers or tissue paper.
Connect two soda bottles so that each pouring end becomes a handle for an oblong bat that can be held like a rolling pin and used to hit balls or balloons. The inside may be filled with colorful crushed paper or a weighted item such as a bag of beans to provide proprioceptive sensory input. In addition, constructing this activity can be therapeutic since crushing paper to stuff inside provides an excellent sensory, bilateral hand strengthening task.
Batting at objects while grasping each handle develops upper-extremity strength, range-of-motion, and eye-hand coordination. The activity can be performed alone, with a partner or in a group with each individual positioned in a circle around the suspended ball. It may also be performed in various positions including: standing, kneeling, sitting, prone or supine to strengthen and improve balance and motor planning skills.
The client shown above has low muscle tone and poor postural control. Batting to push the ball strengthens the muscles used to hold the anti-gravity position called prone extension.
How to Construct
- Cut the bottles on dotted lines (See A)
- Crush paper for decoration and insert inside the bottles
- Cut a slit in one bottle. Squeeze that bottle to insert into the other. (See B.)
- Cover the area where bottles meet with a strip of duct tape.
- Decorate as desired
- Handles may be enlarged by attaching foam with duct tape. (See C)
The two-handled pull may motivate lower functioning individuals to bilaterally reach, grasp, bring hands to midline and pull hands apart in order to watch the bat fly upward. The following video demonstrates how to cut the handles from detergent bottles.
This activity promotes visual attention, bilateral coordination, upper-extremity range-of-motion and strength.
How to Construct
- Drill two holes, about 2 inches apart, in a strip of wood (or strong plastic).
- Cut nylon or other smooth cord, 3 to 5 feet long. Shorter cord will make it easier for the client to pull apart.
- Cut a small hole in each flap handle Insert one end of the cord through the flap in one handle and tie a knot (See A.) Secure the cord with duct tape.
- Thread that cord through the bat and through the two holes in the strip of wood. (See B.)
- Make a loop in the cord above the strip of wood (the suspension piece). Wrap duct tape around the bottom of the loop.
- Continue to thread the cord back through the bat and down through the hole in the second handle. Tie a knot and use duct tape to secure that end of the cord to the second handle.
Adapt with a Spring Toy!
A two-handled pull may be made using a spring toy instead of the bat or both together as shown in the illustration. When the handles are pulled apart, the spring toy shoots upward. Some clients who are functioning at a lower cognitive level may enjoy pulling the handles and watching the spring toy move.
One end of the spring toy is attached to the wooden piece. The cords are strung through the center of the spring toy.
Caution: Any open ends of a metal spring toy must be covered with tape to avoid cuts.
Zoom Ball or Forward Pass
Zoom Ball" also known as "Forward Pass" is a commercially available toy that involves 2 players. Each player grasps a handle in each hand alternating opening arms apart and bringing them together. When player A moves arms apart the "ball" shoots across to player B who has hands together. Then player B moves arms apart so that the "ball" shoots across to player A (who has hands together). The players repeat as long as strength holds up and they are having fun...
Zoom Ball Adaptations
- Using a shorter length of cord will make the activity easier to perform. Use longer cord to increase challenge
- Individualize the handle sizes by choosing smaller or larger plastic detergent or dishwasher soap bottles. Handle shapes and sizes can vary quite a bit. Learn more about built-up handles in this post.
- Clients with visual challenges may benefit from bright color contrast. You may also use different color handles so that you can call out directions such as "blue handles apart" or "red handles together".
Directions to Construct
- Prepare 4 handles as described earlier to make the two-handled pull.
- Attach ends of cord through 2 of the handles; secure tightly with duct tape.
- Insert ends of cord through the bat.
- Attach remaining 2 cord ends to remaining 2 handles.
Many children and adults with (and without disabilities) may enjoy the following adaptations.
- Attach a small bag of sand to the inside of the handles using strong duct tape.
- Insert a motorized pen (with tip removed) or toothbrush (with brush removed) inside the handle. Secure with duct tape.
Adding weight and/or vibration may be just the ticket to increase sensory input, motivation and prolong attention to tasks. Here are a few fun position/movement variations to try out when using zoom ball:
- Play while sitting, standing, kneeling or for a super challenge- half kneeling.
- Each player faces away from each other while opening/closing arms behind their bodies.
- Use feet instead of hands
- Slowly walk in lines or a circle while playing zoom ball. Higher functioning clients might be able to follow verbal directions while playing- such as "turn clockwise", " raise arms up high" or "march feet in place".
- Perform with eyes closed.
- Players may take turns counting to a set number or recite the alphabet to further create a rhythm.
Providing a discrete number of turns with an end in sight may help individuals with executive function challenges such as short attention spans. Learn more about executive function here... I have found these activities, especially effective with individuals on the autism spectrum. They can engage without demands to verbalize or maintain eye contact. Maintaining eye contact on the moving bat works on visual tracking skills, convergence (eyes on object moving toward nose) and divergence (eyes on object moving away from nose).
The movement of the bat shooting toward the player provides a visual, auditory and tactile cue that elicits a reaction. I have actually written a goal for an individual who requires cues for every action including putting food in his mouth. I loved how he learned to respond to the bat flying toward him without any other cues. This was progress!
The following video demonstrates how to make the handle with flaps to adapt materials for individuals with grasping challenges.