Taking Apart and Putting Together

Bottle brushes inside various containers.
Bottle brushes inside various containers.

The ability to separate objects is the basis for being able to put things back together again. These are two key concepts needed to play constructively. From an early age, children should be given objects that will separate. Don’t immediately think of construction materials like snap beads or Duplo blocks for a child with disabilities, as these can be too difficult for a child with cerebral palsy to grasp or hold.

You can create simple items that come apart by hanging two items together. For example, attach two spoons together with a ring or elastic. When pushed or batted at, the spoons will make noise. When grasped, they can come apart into two separate spoons, but they will also go back together again when manipulated.

Many items can be created using rings, zip ties or elastic. Check out some of these ideas found under the Materials tab to get some ideas, and read The Comprehending Hand by Dr. Lilli Nielsen, which provides many examples of items that can be separated.

Here are just a few simple take apart materials:

  • Two nail brushes stuck together
  • A bottle brush in a bottle
  • Keys hanging together in a ring
  • Measuring cups or spoons on a ring
  • Magnetic items
  • Velcro items; Velcro boards and vests
  • Containers of all shapes, materials and sizes with, and without, lids

A child will always take apart before putting back together, so initially the adult will need to refill the container, reassemble the object, or attach the lid to the container. The child with special needs requires that the adult do this many, many times to allow the child to repeat the skill of separating.

Because children learn though imitation, allow the child to feel, hear and see, if possible, what you are doing. Over time, the child may then attempt to imitate your actions. It is important to stress that you learn to separate, before you learn to put back together. Avoid using hand-over-hand techniques. These actions control a child’s activity instead of encouraging independent engagement.

Dureyea Taking Apart and Putting Back Together

By pulling wooden shapes off dowel rods, Dureyea is practicing taking apart. Only after he removes all of the shapes, does he then discover how to rotate the shapes in order to drop them back onto the dowel rod to begin practicing putting back together.

Adrianna Pouring and Refilling

Pouring is also separating. A child will never fill his or her glass with milk, if the child is not allowed to dump out the contents of a container, and then refill it. Adrianna practices refilling and pouring rice and beans onto noise-making surfaces. Toward the end of the video Adrianna attempts to fill a pop-tube with objects that were too big in diameter. This activity provided an opportunity for her to learn about what shape, and what size objects, effectively fit into or fill a container.

Katy Explores Objects Strung Together

In this next video of Katy, she is provided with a container full of objects. The items are of different materials, shapes and sizes and they have been strung together in groups of two or three with elastic and rings. Katy is still in the oral motor phase of exploring objects, however, stringing the items together allows for her to feel that there is more than one item present. Items can be transferred from hand-to-hand or hand-to-mouth. They can come apart or go together, be thrown, mouthed, pushed, scratched or discarded.

Taking Apart and Putting Together pin for Pinterest showing a variety of bottles with bottlebrushes inside.