The Ultimate Guide to Fine Motor Strength with Recycled Containers

When Toddlers are involved, bath time tends to be more wet than the splash zone at Sea World.  
I’m reminded of our bath time adventures every time I step into the shower and see Barbie dolls, plastic cups, and every kind of bathtub water toy spread all over the edge of the tub.  We’ve got the plastic bin right there in the bathroom, but just like any other aspect of childhood, little pieces and bits of the reminder of children seem to be left all over the place.  
One of my kids favorite ways to play in the bathtub is with used shampoo and conditioner bottles.  We leave a few along the edge of the tub for squirting and squeezing during bath time.  Do you do this, too?
Recycled plastic bottles are perfect for exploring water, squeezing, and working on fine motor strength.  Start saving those water bottles, because you and the kids are going to love this idea!


Fine Motor Development and Strength with Recycled Containers:

How to improve hand grasp strength with recycled containers:

This post is part of our 31 Days of Occupational Therapy where we’ve shared a month of creative and mostly free ways to work on many Occupational Therapy skill areas.  This one uses an item you typically throw into the recycle bin: plastic squeeze bottles.
All you need is items you’ve already got in your home. Save recycled containers (plastic squeeze bottles, shampoo bottles, soap dispensers, etc. These plastic bottles are great for hand strengthening and fine motor play.
It is so easy to throw this play activity together.  Simply fill a container with water and throw a few recycled plastic bottles in.  Done! 
The best part of this easy activity is that kids are working on their gross motor grasp and hand strengthening and they don’t even realize it.

What is Gross Grasp?

So, what is gross grasp and why do kids need this skill area?  

Gross grasp is a grasp pattern that is used when squeezing all of the fingers shut around an object, like when holding the handle of a suitcase.  

Gross grasp is important in tasks like handwriting and scissor use.  To do these activities, you need to squeeze your whole hand shut and maintain endurance to complete the activity.  

Development of hand arch and thumb web space is important for these functional skills and gross grasp plays a part.  

Targeting gross grasp supports other finger strengthening exercises because the hand is connected! When the arches of the hands are developed, intrinsic strength improves, and when there is strength, there is mobility and endurance in functional tasks.

Related, but also connected…you’ll want to read about grip strength for more information on this topic.

Gross Grasp Activities

Use the bottles to work on fine motor strength by squeezing the water into containers.  Show your kids how to squeeze water up into the bottles and then to squeeze the water out again.  We usually do this activity in the bathtub, but pulling it out and playing in the dining room with just a bin of water made a regular old activity novel and fun. 
More gross grasp activities for kids:
  • Squeeze spray bottles
  • Squeeze sponges
  • Cut resistive materials with scissors
  • Use a hole punch
  • Tug of war
  • Hand gripper workouts

So, next time you are in the shower and you see those shampoo bottles, think about playing with them…and the fun of Sea World.  I mean Toddler Bath Time.

This is such a super simple activity, with really no prep.  It will be a hit with your kids, I promise!

You will love this Related Post: Pinch Pin Exercises

Working on fine motor skills, visual perception, visual motor skills, sensory tolerance, handwriting, or scissor skills? Our Fine Motor Kits cover all of these areas and more.

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Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to