Go Green: Using Recyclables in Your Child’s Gross Motor Exercises

kids recycling

When children are young, they’re constantly soaking up knowledge, asking questions, and learning all they can. They may even ask why you have two separate bins for your trash. This can be a great time to teach them about sustainability and the three R’s: reduce, reuse, and recycle.

In this post, we’re going to walk you through how you can use items commonly found in your recycling bin to practice gross motor skills with your child at home. Below are some creative ways to incorporate these items into exercises that target strength, balance, coordination, and motor planning. Reusing and recycling these items provides a great way to work on gross motor skills while keeping it green and being mindful of our planet!


Tissue boxes: Save empty tissue boxes, mostly the types (like Kleenex) that have a slot in the top of the box, as opposed to a large tear-off opening in the front (like Puffs). Place pom-poms, such as the larger ones you can get at a craft store, on top of the slit and have your child use their foot to push the pom-poms into the box while balancing on one foot. You can make this more challenging by elevating the box on a step stool to make it higher, and therefore, your child will need to lift their foot higher while balancing.

If you don’t have pom-pom’s, try saving plastic bottle caps from milk and juice containers. You can also use a different lightweight toy (think Legos!) or have them try to push a small sock into the opening of the box using their feet/toes. Don’t forget to practice this while balancing on the left and on the right foot. Trying this activity barefoot will also tap into those smaller arch muscles of the feet- an added bonus!


Paper towel roll: Save the roll from your paper towels and tape it vertically to the wall to work on cruising with your little one that is close to walking independently, but not quite there yet. Have them work on cruising along the wall and work on dropping pom-poms inside the tube. For added sustainability, you can reuse plastic caps (like the ones from snack pouches) and have your little drop those into the tube.

Placing the tube higher up on the wall can be helpful for strengthening calves, as this encourages lifting up onto tiptoes with a child who might already be walking, but not yet jumping. In addition, placing the tube lower to the floor can encourage squatting to place the caps or pom-poms into the tube to strengthen the hips. If this is too easy for your toddler, you can have them stand on an unstable surface, like a pillow, while they squat to drop the items into the tube. This incorporates balance and increased core activation.


Wrapping paper rolls: If you use wrapping paper for birthdays and holidays, here is a way to prevent the amount of waste: start saving the tube/roll from inside your wrapping paper and use it as a “tunnel” for driving toy cars inside! I like to have parents place the tube on the stairs (on an incline) and have the child carry up 1-2 small toy cars at a time to practice stair negotiation skills.

Once they reach the top where the wrapping paper tube is, I have the child drop the car(s) into the tube to send them back down to the bottom! This helps with motivation for practicing stepping up and down the staircase. Children usually like to watch the cars appear outside the other end of the tube, walking back down the stairs with assistance as needed to go get them and try again! How far does each car zoom to the bottom?!


Plastic food containers: Dig out those small to medium-sized plastic containers from your recycling bin (the kind from yogurt, sour cream, or butter containers). Saving the lids, cut out the middle to create a ring toss game and use a paper towel roll tube as the “pole” to drop the rings onto! For babies that are cruising, tape and secure the smaller containers to a wall or floor-length mirror and place some of their favorite smaller toys inside. This can be a way to motivate and encourage babies to cruise along the vertical surface of the wall or mirror while reaching to pull the toys out. Place some higher and some lower to the floor to encourage squatting.

Another idea for your toddler who is practicing their early soccer skills: place a playground ball or balloon on one of the smaller plastic containers on the floor and use it as a “tee” to help elevate the ball a few inches off the floor. This will increase the challenge and target balance on one foot (again, be sure to practice kicking with left and right foot to work both sides of the body).

For more OT motor skills activities and ideas, check out our other blogs here!

Written by Jessica Tarence, PT, DPT

Discover how our autism treatment services can help you

Discover how our autism treatment services can help you

Get Social With Us

Related Posts