Toolkit: Encouraging Movement through Play in a Child with Cerebral Palsy

There are many treatment options for a child with cerebral palsy (CP). But play can go a long way toward encouraging development. Movement fosters motor development, strength, and flexibility. It helps prevent contractures and deformities. Many children with CP seek movement. Here are some ideas to incorporate into your child’s routine and play:

  • Put your child down on the floor and let your child explore his or her surroundings. Put your infant on his stomach to improve back and shoulder strength and head control. This also promotes weight bearing in the arms and hands. Put your child on his back to promote reaching with the arms, play with the feet, tracking with the eyes, and kicking. Make sure you change your child’s position often if your child does not move independently.
  • Play games that encourage movement and crawling on the floor. Getting your child to initiate activity may help social and cognitive development. So sometimes try placing toys just out of reach so that your child needs to work, roll, wiggle, pivot, crawl, or scoot to reach them. Movement and weight bearing encourages muscle strength and tone. If your child is unable to move independently, you can place your child on his stomach in a sling. Any contact the child makes with his hands on the floor can create movement. Your therapist can help you set up this fun activity at home.
  • Play games that encourage weight bearing by your child. One example is the “wheel barrel” game. Or, have your child climb on hands and knees up and down play structures. Some children enjoy bouncing games on the mini trampoline if an adult is guiding the movement.
  • Encourage your child to put toys away by herself even if it takes a long time. This will help encourage independence, movement, and problem solving. Make sure the toy storage area is accessible and safe for your child.
  • Take your child on tricycle or bicycle rides. There are trikes and bikes that can be modified to fit your child’s needs.
  • Play ball games to improve coordination and motor skills. If your child cannot catch a ball, hang a ball from a string or start with a balloon hanging from a string to make “catching” and “throwing” a ball a positive activity.
  • To improve your child’s balance, encourage walking on narrow surfaces such as balance beams or the curb around the playground.
  • Have your child try recreational activities that are either specialized for children with disabilities or not. These might include gym, dance, sports-related classes, or other physical exercise programs.
  • Take your child swimming or enroll him in swim classes to increase or reduce muscle tone. Swimming also promotes respiratory development. Children with spasticity often do better in warmer pools. Check with your child’s therapists to see if there are pools near you that are suitable for children with mobility problems.