Early Intervention Strategies for Success

Sharing What Works in Supporting Infants & Toddlers and the Families in Early Intervention

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  • You Can Teach Anything with Bubbles & a Ball!(current)

Toddler Play with BubblesIf you work with infants and toddlers,  you know the mesmerizing qualities of bubbles and the unlimited possibilities of a simple ball. Bubbles and balls are staples in many families’ homes so you don’t need to bring them with you to intervention visits;  you just ask the parent if they have one or the other and away you go!  Bubbles and balls are inexpensive tools (and just plain fun toys!) that you can use to help parents learn how to think creatively and interact with their children in playful and responsive ways.

All children can interact with bubbles and balls, regardless of ability. You can use bubbles and balls to address almost any IFSP outcome too.

Here are a few ideas that you can teach families for some simple, effective fun:

Turn-taking: Teach turn-taking by blowing bubbles or rolling a ball then waiting for the child to indicate that he wants to continue by looking at his parent, making a sound or using a sign, moving a part of his body, or saying “bubble” or “ball.” Coach the parent in how to use her face and voice to help the child know it’s his turn to do something to let her know that he wants to continue the play.

Eye-hand coordination: Use bubbles to encourage eye-hand coordination by holding a captured bubble on a wand in different places in the child’s field of vision or mobility range. Show the parent how to use wrist, forearm, or elbow support (only as much as needed) to help the child pop the bubble. Use hand-over-hand support to help a child dip the wand into the bottle then hold it near his mouth to blow a bubble.

Language: Play “ready, set, go!” games by rolling a ball on “go!” then giving the ball to the child and parent. Have the parent say “ready, set…” then prompt and wait a few seconds for the child to say/sign “go” (or whatever word you want to substitute) before rolling the ball again. Use blowing bubbles as oral motor exercise for the child.

Requesting: Keep the bubbles or balls in a clear container so the child has to ask his parent for help to get them out for play. Have the parent give the child simple choices by asking the child whether he wants big or little bubbles, his Elmo ball or bubbles, etc.

Adaptive Routines: Use bubbles or ball play as a motivator to get through a difficult routine. Even though toddlers don’t necessarily understand if/then relationships, the parent can let the child hold the ball or bubble container (tightly sealed) during diaper changes that are challenging then play immediately afterwards.

Movement: The parent can blow bubbles up high or down low to motivate the child to stand or squat. Roll a ball for the child to crawl after or walk in his gait trainer to try to kick. Blow bubbles while the child walks in the grass or on different surfaces to distract him, especially if he is sensitive to how the surface feels.

Cognition: Try to fit balls into different size holes or cups. Sort balls of different colors or sizes into different baskets during clean-up time. Hide the bubble wand or play peek-a-boo with it and help the child find it.

The ideas are endless! The key is making the parent-child interaction with bubbles or balls playful, fun, and responsive to the child’s cues. After the parent tries any of these activities, take the next step to think together about how they can use the play strategy with other materials and in other routines. You and the parent can use bubbles and balls to spread the fun and learning throughout the day!

What are your favorite games using bubbles and balls? How do you help parents use them to support infant/toddler development?

7 comments on “You Can Teach Anything with Bubbles & a Ball!

  • Lori says:

    Absolutely agreed these toys offer endless opportunities for play among children and social, motor, cognitive & language development. My favorite activities with these items include contrasting movement and sound patterns; bubbles- short pop pop pop and long blowwwwww, ball- short bounce bounce bounce, long rollllll. While children can receptively take in visual & auditory stimuli, then can also start to express understanding & intention with either action or sound associations. Best of all it can be formatted to their current level of development and scaffolded for gradual progress.

    • Great ideas, Lori! Your ideas for using bubbles and balls to encourage movement and sound patterns are so helpful because these are such popular items many families have in their homes, child care providers have in their homes/centers, etc. For families that don’t have bubbles or a ball, they could practice these same kinds of things with other toys, with blowwwwwwing soap bubbles in the sink, rolling toy trucks or soup cans, etc. There are so many fun things we can help families teach with simple objects found in their homes. We just have to be creative, and it sounds like you are great at that!

  • Kim says:

    I appreciate you mentioned that all children, regardless of ability, can interact with bubbles and balls. As a SC, it is sometimes challenging to think of activities to recommend to families before their initial session. But, it is true that most families have either balls or bubbles and there are many skills you can address using them, as you highlighted. I will keep these activities in mind as I meet new families.

    • Thanks for the comment, Kim. You made me think of this post in a different way. I still believe that bubbles and balls are pretty much universal (although I’ve met some toddlers who were scared of bubbles). However, as I’ve learned more about coaching, now I think I’d suggest first asking the parent what interests the child – and start there with your recommended suggestions for things to do before the initial session. You could probably still use some of the same learning ideas listed here, just tweak them for the child’s preferred activities.

  • Emilie Mulholland says:

    I think the blog post “7 Specific Question to Ask when Exploring Family Routines” can be applied to these activities when asking the family how they normally play bubbles or ball with a child in order to get a better idea of what they are already naturally doing! While many people may not thinking of bubbles or playing ball as a routine, it can be, as it is something a family may do often enough to turn into a learning activity, thus those same questions can be asked for these activities. This will guide the interventionist into asking appropriate questions to coach the parent into thinking of what they think will work for the child, as well as reflection.

  • Mindy says:

    I love using bubbles and balls to help engage “standoffish” parents that we sometimes encounter. These activities are also a great intro activity and help families and therapists get to know one another better. These activities can be graded so both parents and children can experience success, no matter what the purpose of the activity is. Other uses for bubbles and balls are visual tracking/attention, finger isolation for popping and sensory defensiveness on hands and feet.


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