Welcome to the Indoor Activities page. This page describes gross motor exercises for wheelchair users.
This page was created for our ‘Busy Butterflies’; children and young people who are in a wheelchair for much of their playtime, work and mobility and who have mild or no learning difficulties.
This page gives ideas, activities and resources for your child to play and exercise with their whole bodies to develop their gross motor skills.
Exercise is beneficial to everyone’s general health – it helps with cardiovascular health, prevents things like stroke and heart disease, is great for self-esteem, it releases endorphins so is good for mental health, help your body manage blood sugar and insulin levels and help control weight.
Improves strength which leads to better gross motor skills and more independent living.
Improves sleep which is very often a problem with those with physical difficulties.
Reduces constipation – as the body moves, the muscles in the stomach contract and help move stomach contents to help with painful trapped wind and constipation.
Protect joints by increasing muscle strength which takes pressure off joints. A large proportion of older people with Cerebral Palsy have chronic pain in their joints so exercise at a young age can help to reduce the pain and maintain or increase their function.
The pull of muscles and weight bearing both increase bone density – reducing the risk of fractures.
Exercise can help to maintain or increase muscle length through active stretch – keeping ranges of motion in joints and enabling better gross motor skills and thus improved function and independence.
Exercise can reduce fatigue and improve exercise tolerance so improving function and independence in every day tasks.
We all have a different level that we start from with exercise, so it may be that your child gets a good workout just by moving their head or their arms.
Position your child depending on the activity. If they need good hand/ eye coordination or fine motor skills this is probably best from their wheelchair. If the activity is a general movement then it may be nice to try from different positions out of the wheelchair to get more movement. e.g. lying on their tummy, in hands and knees, in sitting on the floor, sat on a bench or standing at furniture with your help.
Tailor these activities to your child’s abilities so that they are always successful for some of the activity but are still being challenged.
As with all exercise, doing a little more than they are used to doing is the way to get fitter and stronger. If we do the same every day we will not change our strength or fitness so always try and progress the number of repetitions that your child does.
Here are some ideas of games and activities you can do at home to get your child to be active in the home.
Here are some great play and exercise activities for your child to develop their gross motor skills
This is a fantastic game and involves playing in teams and getting your team’s ball nearest to a target ball. It can be played with as few as 2 people and your child can play from their wheelchair or sitting on a bench or the floor.
If you don’t have balls, use rolled up socks.
See our video for details on the rules for this very inclusive game you can play anywhere.
This can be played from your child’s wheelchair, from a bench or sat on the floor.
Staying nice and close to each other, roll a balloon to your child and ask them to hit it back. This is great for cause and effect as little effort goes a long way and the balloon moves slowly so gives more time to aim the hit back.
As your child improves, stand further apart and launch the balloon into the air rather than along the floor/ tray.
This can be played from your child’s wheelchair, from sat on a bench, from a hands and knees position or sat on the floor.
Roll a ball between you on their tray or at a table.
Start with a big ball and get smaller as your child improves.
Try to stop the ball when it comes to you before rolling back.
Try rolling with more accuracy-e.g. into a container.
Try stopping the ball with 2 hands
Try stopping the ball with 1 hand.
Your child could start this sat on a bench, sat on the floor or from your lap, from hands and knees or from their wheelchair.
Use a beanbag or soft toy to practice throwing into a container. Start with a big container or target very close to your child.
You could set up a ramp (piece of cardboard, tray or cushion) off their tray or lap to help them.
As the child gets more accurate, move the container further away.
You could use colours or other descriptions to throw into different containers (e.g. red toys into bucket, green toys onto the laundry basket OR dinosaurs through the hoop, farm animals into the saucepan.)
Your child could start this sat on a bench or from your lap, from hands and knees or from their wheelchair.
Start very close to the target.
Give the child a large soft ball or soft toy to throw.
You could set up a ramp (a piece of cardboard, tray or cushion) off their tray or lap to help them.
Encourage them to get more accurate by seeing how many throws it takes to knock them all over.
As your child gets more accurate, move the target further away.
This should be played from your child’s wheelchair so they can use both their hands.
Give your child a bucket. this could rest on the floor or tray in sitting or in their arms.
Throw a beanbag or other soft toy into the air and they need to move the bucket to catch it.
As they get better, make the bucket or container smaller so they have to increase their accuracy.
This can be done from a bench or from your child’s wheelchair to give them the best chance.
Start with a big soft ball and sit very close together. Roll the ball into your child’s hands so they get used to holding it and balancing the ball between 2 hands.
Ask your child to throw it back and keep practising until they are accurate to you at a very small distance.
Start moving back a little so there is a gap between you.
Start making the ball a bit smaller-soft balls and beanbags are easier to catch than fully inflated balls. If you don’t have balls at home use rolled up socks, small cushions or soft toys.
Move onto large inflated balls such as footballs and then get smaller
Trapping the ball/ toy/ beanbag, in the elbow, under the chin, between the shoulder and cheek, under the arm or behind the knee and then letting go is another way to play catch with yourself or you can help your child to place a ball in a crease. Move the object between creases (elbow to elbow, cheek to elbow). See Lucy’s video for an explanation of this game.
If your child has some sitting balance on the floor or on the bench/roll, you could try working some sitting balance on a moving object. This could be on a wobble cushion, on a gym ball or, if they fit on your lap, you could move your lap as a moving surface.
If using a gym/physio ball, make sure you have complete control of the ball and your child to try this – it may take 2 adults. If you are using the ball, you can wedge it into the corner of the room to make it more stable until you are more confident in our handling.
Hold your child at their hips so you have control of their bottom and the ball. Very slowly move the ball back and forward or side to side.
As they get more confident you can move in bigger movements in all directions but keep going very slowly to challenge them. Hold the position at the extreme of where they can go to make it a little harder but have a second person ready to catch them if they fall.
Take photos of objects on your phone or tablet or print out the photos. Start by having a couple of objects on their tray and showing a photo of 1 of them and see if they can match it to the item. If they are able to match objects, put the object further away (within their visual range).
Show the child 1 photo at a time and they need to find it in the room/ home.
If your child can’t wheel themselves or move on the floor, see if they can guide you to find the object with pointing and other forms of communication.
Make sure the objects are very desirable to keep your child engaged (e.g. food or a phone/tablet) and that they get to play with it once they have found it.
This is a great copy game. One person does an action and the other person has to copy them. This is a great way to convince your child to do any action you want from them!
Alternatively ask them to lead the game and see where their imagination takes you.
If your child would struggle with this concept, try copying everything they do. If they move their arm, you move your arm the same etc. They may start moving just to make you move. There is a similar technique called intensive interaction for communication and you could try both together to see if your child will move and make sounds. To find out more about intensive interaction see this series dedicated to it.
This is a great game to work visual skills. To begin with just hide an object under a piece of material on the tray so that a big part of the object is visible. Preferably an object of interest (a phone?!) Encourage your child to pull the material away to reveal the whole object.
You can start to make this more complicated by hiding something behind a door with half of it poking out and see if they will notice/ point out or try to reveal the item.
Lastly you could hide yourself, a sibling or object somewhere in the room and see if they can search it out with their eyes or point to it or, if they can move their wheelchair, can they go towards it?
If you don’t have a parachute at home then a sheet will do the same job. Hold onto the edges between at least 3 of you.
Put objects in the middle and make the objects move around the sheet by lifting or lowering your arms.
You may need to help your child to hold on but they will get a lovely new perspective bringing the parachute up and down above and below their eye level. This is also a lovely way to get an arm stretch above their head.
Set up the room so that there is a beanbag or soft toy on furniture at a height that is in easy reach of your child. Space the furniture out and put a laundry basket at the end.
If your child can wheel themselves or if they use an electric wheelchair then encourage them to do this activity themselves. If not you can push them.
They need to go to the first beanbag and pick it up and put on their tray. They then go to the laundry basket and try and throw it in. Next go to the 2nd beanbag and take it to the laundry basket. Continue until they have put all the beanbags into the basket.
This is a lovely game to play with siblings as they can do a relay race playing the same game.
An egg and spoon race is a great way to challenge hand/ eye coordination and hand control.
Use a large spoon and a small ball. You can adapt this depending on your child’s needs. They may need a large spoon and a beanbag. Or even a bucket and beanbag.
The child should try and get from A to B without the ball falling of their spoon.
Use whatever wheelchair mobility they have. For a child with more severe physical difficulties it may be that they just keep their hand on a ball on their tray and try not to let go as you push them around the room.
Use a beanbag or soft toy for this. Help them put the item on their head and see if they can keep it on while they/ you wheel them from one end of the room to the other.
You may want to use a mirror when you put it on their head so they know what is going on.
You could also try putting a ball in their hand to see if they can hold on if they have more physical difficulties.
Trampolining is a fantastic, fully inclusive activity. Whether your child is on their feet or in a wheelchair, they may well get benefits from having a bit of trampoline fun. Be aware that there are some reasons NOT to use a trampoline – such as if your child has had spinal rodding, There are several other times to be cautious so make sure you check with your physiotherapist before going on the trampoline for the first time with your child.
If your child is not mobile, try them in different positions on the trampoline. For example if your child has not got sitting balance, they can lie supported by cushions while you very gently bounce them or walk around them on the trampoline. This will make them use different muscles to balance themselves. You could do this with them in sitting if they have some sitting balance.
Or try them on their hands and knees or sitting on a wedge. You may need 2 people to help your child on the trampoline but this is definitely an activity that the whole family can enjoy and get exercise from!
Turn up the music and let your child dance however they want to. Dancing is a brilliant form of exercise and there are numerous you tube channels with music to dance along to for younger kids – or just Pop music for older children. See our ‘Music at Home’ pages (coming soon) for ideas of You-tube channels to try.
Find one song that your child especially likes. Help your child with the movements to start with and, over time, they may well anticipate the next movement and start to take over. This is a great way to get a daily workout into your child’s life.
- There are countless exercise and workout videos out there at different levels. See our Exercise Videos page for our favourites.
Table cricket is played by children with all disabilities. It is a great game to play with all the family and can be played using a regular table.
This video Keeping fit and healthy at home: Table top tennis gives a quick demonstration of how to set up and play table cricket in the home. Visit this video by the Lords Taverners Lord’s Taverners | Rules of Table Cricket for more detailed explanations of how to play this great inclusive game.
You will need a big enough ball so that the footplates of the wheelchair can move the ball. If your child can wheel themselves, encourage them to move the ball towards a goal (between 2 chairs).
If they can’t wheel themselves this could be a nice game to play with the family, passing to each other in a circle.
It may be that your child rolls the ball off the tray to their siblings/ parents so that they can participate as much as possible.
More helpful Busy Butterfly resources
Here are a selection of suitable Our Home videos
Boccia is a quick and easy game to set up indoors. All you need are some socks!
You can use lots of objects that you can find around your house to create this bear hunt!
The scavenger hunt is really simple and easy to set up. It can be adapted to suit any disability and household.
Laser Quest in a Box
You can create the laser string quest in any object and include lots of sensory objects for your children to collect.