Screw Cap Fine-Motor Activities

Screwing and unscrewing covers to bottles and other containers is a great way to develop manipulation skills! Fortunately, there is an unlimited supply of plastic containers from detergent, dishwasher soap and juice bottles available to make the following activities. I love that these materials come in all different sizes, colors and shapes... and can be cut to create an unlimited variety of activities and of course.... THEY ARE FREE!

Plastic Container Basics:

I recommend that you go to a fabric, office  or building supply store to purchase  heavy duty scissors that are designed to cut leather or similar challenging materials.  You will see my favorite scissors in the following videos and pictures.

Some plastic containers are made of a thinner  plastic (typically dishwasher soap or juice bottles) than the plastic used for large detergent bottles. Bottles made of thinner plastic are easier to cut and less likely to cause a blister in the hand's web space area.

I call the part that is cut  from the pouring spout the bottle or threaded "neck". Sometimes I use necks cut from cardboard containers as shown below. Cardboard is easier to cut than most plastic bottles and other containers.

The materials pictured above can be used in a simple activity to;:

  • unscrew and sort the necks and caps into different containers
  • take a neck and cap from the respective containers and screw together to insert into a third container.
  • Encourage working left to right to be consistent with cultural norms (or reverse if that is how it is done in your culture).
  • To add challenge, provide different sizes so that the client must match neck and cap before screwing them together.

Using Entire Screw Cap Containers or only the Necks

The only reason I avoid using entire bottles or other containers for screwing/unscrewing tasks is because they take up a huge amount of storage space. You will have to decide how small to make the threaded neck pieces based on storage space.

The threaded necks from detergent bottles shown below are challenging to manipulate because there is not a lot of plastic for the "helper hand" to grasp while manipulating the cover. I used the materials shown below in a two-step task involving

  1. unscrewing the cap/cover from the neck and then
  2. using the remaining ring-shape neck,  in an activity such as ring stacking.

Activities that Utilize Size Discrimination

I worked in a program for many years that provided quantities of white containers with yellow covers. These held "thick-it" used to thicken liquids. There are many similar containers to be found in recycling bins, but these were plentiful and easy to cut.

Evaluate your client or child's cognitive abilities to match size covers to corresponding necks or bottles - obviously starting with 2 different sizes and increase if  successful.

Opening/Unscrewing is generally easier than closing/screwing caps

It is generally easier to motor plan the motions to unscrew than to screw the pieces together. So you may want to set the activity up to separate and sort before teaching how to match and screw pieces together.

The following video demonstrates a  2 step task by requiring the individual to unscrew caps from necks and then

  1. stack the ring shaped bottle necks over the dowel and
  2. insert the cap into the container with opening.

The following video shows a curvy ring stack that is actually sold to be used as a bird mister. Its really fun to watch rings spiral  down. Try providing caps and bottle necks to unscrew and then use  the ringlike pieces on the curvy ring stack.

Promoting Bilateral Hand Skills

The client shown below avoids stabilizing materials, so naturally I provided activities that work on this skill. He unscrews the yellow covers and then stabilizes the orange container before insertion. The diagonal slit may be cut wider than shown to promote success. I have also made the same activity with the slit small enough to require force in order to push the cover all the way inside.  Force and resistance provide proprioceptive sensory input.

The client shown in the video below is blind and seeks deep pressure. However, manipulation skills and size discrimination are strengths. He is shown removing lids of varied sizes and inserting them into corresponding holes.  He is also able to screw the lids back on to the corresponding sized bottle necks attached to the board.

Super Challenging Screw Lid Activity

Some higher functioning clients were able to match a variety of covers to their corresponding necks.  I decided to put numbers on matching lids and bottle necks to work on visual matching skills. Some of the highest cognitive functioning clients LOVED this challenge. The necks are attached to a long strand of fabric to help keep materials organized. If you hang the fabric high enough, clients will work on balance as they reach and control the materials.

Matching Options

You may choose to match and sequence these in alphabetical rather than numerical order. Some children or clients may best match simple shapes or pictures drawn or glued onto materials.

Positioning Options

The above activity may be performed while sitting, standing or moving across the room to retrieve materials. Try placing the container of covers on the floor or a high shelf so that moving up and down is required. Moving from high to low provides not only aerobic exercise but vestibular sensory stimulation. Many children or adults with sensory processing disorders will appreciate the movement sensory stimulation and that in turn may decrease anxiety or agitation.


The individual in the green shirt pictured below has cerebral palsy and avoids using his left hand. However, he was so motivated to work on unscrewing - he stabilized the threaded pieces - and worked with a smile!

Working with materials directly in front of the face promotes an upright posture. So consider adapting materials to be used suspended from the ceiling or walls. Another option is to attach materials to a tall container that requires reaching upward to manipulate. For example, in the following video,  materials are attached to a tall cat litter container. Place the container on top of a box if greater height is desired.

Include Screwing in Sequential Manipulation Activities

Repetitive screwing/ unscrewing manipulation tasks provide opportunities to practice. Many children and adults with developmental disabilities love repetition. In the photo below my son is unscrewing caps attached to the threaded bottle necks wedged inside holes cut into the bottle. Note how this adaptation encourages stabilization with the "helper hand".

Another option is to wedge the bottle necks into holes in a box. Encourage working left to right and top to bottom if you live in a country that teaches reading and writing in this direction.

The dress or undress the snowman activity includes  screwing/unscrewing the cap/hat as part of other clothing manipulations that include tying on the scarf, lacing on the face, buttoning the red fabric pieces and whatever else your child may want on his or her individualized dressy doll.

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