Day 14: Movement Activities

by | Adapt & Modify Activities

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Jumping, running, skipping, tossing, dancing, bouncing, balancing, and rolling.  These are all activities that children are expected to do by the time they’re school-aged.  Of course, at that stage, the disabled child may not even be standing or able to hold a ball in his hands.  With the inspirations for movement found on Pinterest, a parent may wonder how to include physical activities in homeschool plans.  This post will inspire you to be innovative in the way physical education is adapted for your child.




Movement screenshot

Hop-scotch, ballet, bouncing a ball. You can find tips for these activities and more on Pinterest.

A word about movement

While I’m not a physical therapist, I think I have a pretty good handle on my son’s physical needs.  I have been with him since day one and I know his movements better than anyone else. I can anticipate his loss of balance at precisely the time he leans on his left foot.  I can tell by the way he gives in at the knees that he wants to sit, then, “crawl” to get what he wants.  I can read his movements and support him in the best way I know how because I read his body language.  This is why I feel confident in what I’m doing with him.  I also incorporate the most recent suggestions from his last physical therapy session.

We all know the benefits of physical activity, and it’s even more important for your child, who may have limited movements, to do something in his capacity each day.

However, I advise you to speak with your child’s physical therapist before engaging in any of the activities suggested below.  This post is meant to illustrate that your child does not have to be limited just because he has physical disabilities.  But, you want to be able to do them safely, so don’t try anything here without approval from your child’s specialist first.

Why movement activities may be a challenge for children with special needs

  • Children with physical disabilities may not stand nor grasp objects well enough to engage in some movement activities.
  • Children with difficulties with eye-hand coordination may find catching objects to be difficult.

movement activities for children with special needs title

Suggestions for adaptations/ modifications for movement activities

  • Read the latest physical therapy report.  Work with your child’s therapist’s recommendations first.  What’s the next skill you’re working on?  How did the PT suggest your child get there?  Do them.
  • Ball-play.  A very common childhood toy is a ball.  I like to have my son engage in ball-play as it’s versatile, but also something he may easily find when we visit a friend.  Introduce ball-play with a balloon first as it’s light and the child doesn’t need to catch it, but punch or push it up into the air.  If your child struggles with this, hold his hands out and do it for/with him.  Add a verbal routine, “1-2-3 Push the ball!”  (And, then, praise when he touches it, “YAH!”) Eventually work with other types of balls, including balls of different textures and sizes.  Work on rolling as well as tossing the ball.  Then,  work up to rolling the ball to knock over other objects.
movement games

These bowling pins are light-weight and easy to knock down. The ball has indentations for easy grasping.

  • Bean-bags.  Just like a ball, bean bags don’t require a child to be standing or walking in order to play with them.  A child can toss (underhand), throw (overhand), change from hand-to-hand.   Always guide your child hand-over-hand if he has difficulty with this type of play.  It’s also fun to place the bean bag on different parts of his body like the head, elbow, back, shoulders, tummy, etc. while naming the body parts.
  • Big, big ball.  In our home, I call the large exercise balls the “big, big ball”.   They are easy to find and allow for much movement and balance activities.  A child can sit on it, lay on his back or on his tummy, or he can stand before it and hold on with his hands. You can sit on it and place your child on your lap and “Bounce, bounce, bounce” or sway, “Side-to-side, side-to-side”.  You can also rotate your hips in a circular motion to go “Round and round”.  Let your imagination run.
movement on the big ball for children with special needs

Our “big, big ball”. These exercise balls come in a variety of sizes. I wish I had more.

  • Mat-play.  Our physical therapist suggested this tip when I asked her what we could do with our baby crib mattress.  It seemed like a shame to toss it out when it was still new.  She suggested using it in front of a couch for kneeling activities.  The adult can kneel behind the child and play with toys placed on the couch.  I love this because my son cannot kneel on his own, and this makes for an easy spot to get him into that position in seconds.  We also just lay down on it and read.
movement activities

Crib mattress propped up against a couch for kneeling-play.

  • Tents and tunnels.  We love tents and tunnels for physical activity because it gets my son working to get into and out of places.  He doesn’t just spontaneously go in there himself.  We place his favorite toys in them so that he is motivated to “crawl” in.  If your child can’t move himself into tents and tunnels, you can place your child in there yourself.  Lay some pillows and get into the tunnel and tents together (you’ll fit – I tried), and just do something special like reading.

This tent has 2 entrances. I like to pop my head in on one end while calling my little guy to come through the other. It doesn’t always work, but I have a lot of fun myself.

tunnel for movement activities

This tunnel ties to the tent pictured above, or it can be used on its own.  I suggest separating it at first so that your child works on one thing at a time (plus, he can see the other end better when it’s detached).

  • Ribbon-dance.  Playing with a ribbon rod is so much fun (try it yourself – you’ll be captivated).  It’s a simple toy that helps work the shoulder muscles.  Play music and have your child sway the ribbon to the tempo of the music.  Twirl it, swirl it, zig-zag it, and circle it.  So many new verbal routines come from this one little magical wand.
ribbon play for movement

Great for hand and arm exercises.  You can make one yourself with a branch and long ribbon.

  • Obstacle course.  Even if your child isn’t walking, you can create a mini-obstacle course either in your home or in your backyard.  Place a few of your child’s favorite toys in different parts of the house, but where your child can easily see and grab them.  For instance, on a chair in the dining room, on the couch in the living room, on the 2nd step in the hallway, on the counter in the kitchen, etc.  Bring your child around to pick-up each of the toys.  My son is able to walk with much support, so I use the obstacle course as a motivator to get him to walk from one space to another (although he tends to get side-tracked by other things he sees along the way and will fuss to get them).  If your child needs to be wheeled around, do it, but let him reach for the objects if he can, or have him give you the sign/ words to get them yourself.  Celebrate each achievement.

What are some of the movement activities you easily have your child engage in?  What are some things you wish he could do?


  1. Catherine

    I have to admit that when I read the title of this entry, I had only a little ray of hope that something here would apply to my son. After all, it’s a post about movement activities and my son struggles with moving.

    However, I’m SO glad that I did read it because it is full of great suggestions that I can use as is or adapt. Love the crib mattress tip! We are working on kneeling and use folded blankets on the floor, but they get a little lumpy.

    Thanks for a useful post!

    • Gabriella Volpe

      Once again, Catherine, I hear you loud and clear. Because there is a vast variety of abilities in the children of readers here, I wanted to take the angle of those with the most need for assistance in movement. Otherwise, one could take any of the movement activities found on Pinterest and apply those, right? But, for children like yours and mine, Catherine, I was trying to give the very basic (without a physical therapist’s input), of what could be done in the home to mix things up a little.

      However, I realize today, that I probably forgot to add two of the most important tips: Dance and massage.

      What better way to connect with others than through music and dance? For a child who doesn’t walk yet, the parent can support the child in waving/ swaying the arms to the beat of various types of music. I do this so often with my little guy, I don’t know how I even for got that one. We sway fast, we sway slow, we sway left we sway right, up, down and around. We sway the arms up and down alternatively, and then criss-cross alternatively as well. It’s just so much fun for both the child and the parent. If you can, you can also gently move your child’s legs to the beat of the music in a similar way. It’s great to get your child used to this so that when you’re at an event with other people, you can say, “Dance” and he’ll know exactly what to expect.

      And, then, for massage… again, always under the advice of a therapist, you can massage the arms and legs and back ever so gently both at the beginning of the movement session and at the end.

      I carefully chose the word “movement” rather than “physical therapy” or “physical education” because movement allows the parent to envision the possibilities. And, there are many.

      All the best and let me know how it goes with the mattress. I know that it’s not as solid as other mats, but it’s very kind to the knees. It also doubles as a crash pad when you’re both completely exhausted at the end of the activity. I speak from experience!

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