Rolling Over

Not only is rolling the first step in developing postural control (important for later development of fine motor skills such as handwriting), it is also important because it engages a part of the brain responsible for making the left and right sides of the body “talk” to and coordinate with each other (important for reading, writing, and developing higher motor skills). 


Mama OT

Learning to Roll Over

Many children do not have the ability to rollover due to a variety of developmental challenges. When a person rolls over they are using their entire body. This means there is a coordinated effort of legs, arms, torso and head to move from prone (on the tummy) to supine (on the back) or supine to prone. Make sure to give the child plenty of opportunities to play on their stomachs and back either on a Resonance Board or Support Bench. Provide interesting objects along both sides that will encourage the child to turn their head, move their legs and arms, and roll from side-to-side. 

Here are some environments you can create to encourage gross motor movements that lead to rolling over. Look at what the child can already do, such as control head movement or feet or hands. Set up environments and activities that encourage this movement and at the same time make the environment so that other body parts might start to move.  For example, in a Little Room, the child might start batting with their hands. If you watch you will see that sometimes their legs and feet accidentally move, too.  Dr. Nielsen called this kinesthetic movement. Having items at the feet, legs and head often get them to begin to use those body parts more. So get those children moving with some of these easy to make environments.

Developing Strength in Hands, Arms, Feet and Legs  

Beads are clipped to the edge of a metal bucket.
Beads are clipped to the edge of a metal bucket.

Use a metal, wooden or plastic bucket and attach beads, chains, and other things that will make noise when they contact the bucket. Metal buckets make the best sound, but use what you have available. It may be best to start with lighter weight materials and then add heavier materials (like chains) as the child develops more movement and strength. You can use any variety of clip (chip clips, clothes clip, binder clips) as connectors. Be sure the beads or chains actually touch the bucket when moved. 

Place the bucket in front of the child’s hands while they are seated so the child can bat and try to grasp. Having alternating sizes of beads or chains that fingers might fit in can help the child who is learning to grasp to hang onto the item. This encourages hand development and also arm movement. Place the same bucket near the child’s feet to encourage leg and foot movement.

Developing Torso Strength and Head Control

It is so important for children to have time on their tummies to develop strength in their torso and neck. Using a Resonance Board, place the child on his tummy with his head resting on melamine plates stacked on top of each other. Any movement of the head will cause the plates to make noise. Place other plates near hands and feet, and place items on the plates such as chains, beads, ping pong balls, or marbles.  If the child bumps the plate these items will move and make a noise.  At first the plates should be placed almost touching the body, but as the child begins to move more, gradually move the items further from the body. You can also add other items like elastic boards or tilting trays to the mix of items the child might encounter. This activity can also be done in supine position (on the back). 

Resonance Board and Little Room Design download.
Resonance Board and Little Room Design download.

If you do not have a Resonance Board, you should use any hard surface such as wooden or tile flooring, hollow core door, even an empty bathtub if the child is small enough. If you want to make a Resonance Board, the plans are available for downloading. 

Directions for Building a Resonance Board in a PDF version.


Another activity on a Resonance Board that can be done in supine or prone is simply placing objects that can be tipped over easily around the child. This can be a nice game between the child and his peers, siblings or parents. 

Once again, gradually move the objects further from the child to encourage rolling to the side, lifting the torso and legs or propping on elbows or arms. Remember the goal is both to develop strength and coordination of movement between head, torso, arms and legs in order to achieve the ability to rollover.

Another way to develop torso strength and head control is to use a Support Bench, so the child has the opportunity to work in prone while utilizing arms, hands, legs and feet. You may want to read more about the use of the Support Bench before trying to implement activities. If you do not have a Support Bench available you can use a hard surface bench that is appropriately sized for the child.  In her book, Early Learning Step by Step, Dr. Nielsen notes that children should be introduced to the Support Bench gradually if they initially resist being placed on their tummies or the bench in general. 

Many children are unfamiliar with being positioned this way. The board on which the child is placed should be hard or firm, and not soft.  This promotes a straight (as opposed to curved) posture. The height of the bench should be high enough for the child to freely move his arms and legs in a coordinated fashion (think of crawling movements). The width of the bench should support the child’s chest and hips. Note, if the child does not have head control or has trouble lifting his head, they may initially tolerate this position for only a short period of time. Making sure they have interesting things under their arms and hands can help them be motivated to work in this position for a longer period of time and gradually start to lift their head and develop the strength needed for better head control.

If you do not have a Support Bench available, you might use any bench that meets those criteria mentioned above.  In the example below, a piano bench is used.  This might be appropriate for a child who is older. You might also consider using a board-type swing if the child is small. It is VERY IMPORTANT to keep in mind that these types of benches require ADULT SUPERVISION AT ALL TIMES to make sure the child does not roll off the bench or tip it over. In the photo above a bin of macaroni and sticks is placed beside a half-circle wooden container with the same types of sticks. Objects can also be placed under the child’s legs and feet at the same time.

 Developing Leg Strength and Movement

Attach a keyboard or other noise making electronic device to a chair or the wall. Position the child on the floor, a swing, or Resonance Board so they can touch the keyboard with their feet to make it play.  

Encouraging Play In Side-Lying

In this video we see Scott Baltisberger offering a seed pod rattle to a teenager who is positioned on his side.


Play Full Video


Kamryn Practices Rolling from Side to Side

In this video, Kamryn is positioned on her back on a Resonance Board with various materials around her and with bells on her ankles. She plays with moving her arms and legs then rolling side to side.


Play Full Video


Jack’s Progression

This video shows the progression of a boy over a period of approximately 4 years, from lying prone on a Resonance Board to sitting up independently. The time spent playing in supine and prone as well as time in the HOPSA dress helps him to achieve the ability to roll over.

Play Full Video