Today’s blog post comes from the Recycling Occupational Therapist Barbara Smith.

I am thrilled that WebPT has asked me to share some therapeutic interventions created from recycled materials as we celebrate Earth Day. I began using household items such as detergent bottles, cardboard boxes, and old socks to create activities that engage severely multiply-handicapped children and adults more than 20 years ago. Because my homemade activities were individualized, they worked better than commercially available products and the environmental impact was an added benefit!

I describe how to design, fabricate, and adapt many of these activities in my book The Recycling Occupational Therapist, and anyone who is aware of my work knows that I love to make activities out of vibrant, strong, and easy to grasp detergent bottles. However, today I will share some simple activities made out of socks and supermarket plastic bags.

Simply fill socks with grocery bags and stitch the ends together to create a ring. Vary the sizes according to your needs using small ones to place on ring stacks and larger ones (or sew several small ones together) to use in the following large “sensory ring” activity shown in my video:

  • Children bring the ring over the head, down the body, and then step out of it.
  • Children may name body parts touched while moving the sensory ring.
  • Smaller rings provide greater tactile and proprioceptive input.
  • Children may jump or turn in circles during while moving the ring downward.

hippotherapy with DIY ringsThese activities work on motor planning skills, balance, and following directions while at the same time providing calming sensory stimulation. Children may remove the ring while sitting or while standing on an uneven or moving surface. I have even used it during hippotherapy as the child sits on a horse!

You can place smaller rings on the child’s arm or leg. The movements the child will use to remove them are similar to those required to undress. Then the child can place the rings on either a tall standing ring stack or a small one positioned on a table. Because fabric rings require using both hands, this activity is a great way to promote bilateral coordination. 

pole with soft ringsTo make a tall ring stack, sink the bottom of PCV pipe into a can filled with cement. I frequently use this during hippotherapy. However, you can also use this to challenge balance and develop hand skills as children work in various positions such as standing on a trampoline or platform swing.

sensory ring stackYou can also create “sensory rings” for use on any tabletop ring stack. Try filling the socks with a variety of objects such as:

  • Styrofoam peanuts
  • Marbles
  • Pieces of foam
  • Pennies

Inserting long “sensory socks” into a box opening is a fun way to promote hand skills. Children learn that they need to manipulate the sock near the opening rather than at the distant end. Additionally, pushing the sock strengthens the fingers while promoting body awareness.    

sandbags in boxChildren with tactile defensiveness who avoid sensory tables may be willing to explore various objects placed inside the socks, which will enable them to learn about how objects vary in size, shape, and weight.  

Many children love the sensation of squeezing sensory socks and are motivated to engage in manipulation activities using socks that they can untie, unbutton, and unsnap before throwing and catching. Socks or small pillow cases filled with plastic bags are easier than balls to throw and catch because they don’t roll away. Additionally, children with spasticity will find them easier to grasp either inside the hand or with their fingertips.    

bean bag button   bean bag tied

socks with snaps

Sensory based learning materials such as those shown in the images above often motivate children to engage in fine motor activities while at the same time developing body awareness and balance.

For more activity ideas, visit my website. Also, check out my Kindle book entitled The Almost Complete Plastic Bottle Activity Book before you place your bottles in the recycling bin. Lastly, have a great Earth Day!

About the Author

Barbara Smith, M.S., OTR, is the author of The Recycling Occupational Therapist, The Almost Complete Plastic Bottle Activity Book, and the NAPPA-award-winning book From Rattles to Writing: A Parent’s Guide to Hand Skills. Visit her online at recyclingot.com and follow her on Facebook.

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