If 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?