Inclusive Resource on Sensorimotor Child Development for Parents and Teachers



Fiber barrels are hard to find these days but they are a real treasure for motor challenges.  I used to have a great big one, so I fit inside and could demonstrate some of the more challenging moves to the folks I worked with.  Those demos gave my hips a big workout and when I hit the slopes (skiing), I was in the best shape ever!

The enclosed space forces the body to work in new ways, very different from the expensive open rolls you find at children’s gyms.  Every muscle fiber gets a work out and the balancing skills are super challenged.


  • Balance reflexes are challenged and activated
  • Rolling motion activates the vestibular system
  • Helps children tentative with movement to overcome their fears
  • Moving around requires a lot of core strength, so the body gets stronger
  • All the heavy work activates proprioceptors for brain organization
  • The awkward body positions assumed in the small space requires motor planning to figure out how to move around



  • Encourage the child to bundle the entire body inside the barrel.  For children tentative about going inside, have the feet go in first so the head is facing outside.
  • Gently rock the child side to side and determine if s/he enjoys the sensation. If the response is positive, experiment with various rocking motions and speeds. For the fearful child, barely move the barrel and rock very slowly.  Keeping a hand on the child provides support.  When a child wants to get out, let him/her and try again another day.
  • Remind children to keep the hands off the rim so the fingers do not get pinched.  Then encourage them to experiment with moving on their own.
  • Play “Boat.”  Rock the “boat” gently in the “harbor.”  Move onto the “bay” with slightly more rigorous rocking back and forth.  If the child still enjoys the movement, move onto the “ocean,” and rock vigorously side to side so the child tumbles back and forth.  Have the child then dictate where to be “Ocean” (fastest/roughest), “Bay” (rigorous rocking), “Harbor” (gentle/slow/safe rest period).
  • Teach the child how to roll in the barrel.  This can be done with the head facing out (easier) or inside with feet on the rim (more difficult).  Once the child gets the idea encourage rolling all the way across the room and back.
  • For the rolling game, add a puzzle pieces to retrieve and bring to the other side of the room to complete the puzzle.

Special Considerations:

  • Children who are fearful of many kinds of movement, especially when their feet are not on the ground, will find the barrel terrifying at first.  It is a wonderful way to work on these (gravitational insecurity) issues, but these activities must be introduced very slowly.  Have these children reach in to retrieve a favorite toy and get right back out.  Next time have them go in a few more  times.  Once the terror of getting inside subsides encourage staying in while being rocked gently. Counting 1-2-3, and then let the child get out.  Keep building in this way.  It is critical that children understand that they can always get out when they need to.
  •  To challenge physically competent children, have them position themselves in a four point (crawling) position and crawl sideways without falling.  Try to cross the room and return.

Resources:  Google “Fiber barrels” to see if there are any warehouses selling them.  In CT my supply comes from New England Barrel Company in North Haven, CT.


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  1. Brian Brian
    July 6, 2015    

    What size barrels are these ? I have a 9 year old boy who is tall for his age

    • Jill Mays Jill Mays
      August 3, 2015    

      Go for the largest size you can get…I can squeeze into my 4 foot length by approximately 24 inch diameter fiber barrel. Have fun!

  2. Brian Brian
    July 8, 2015    

    What size barrel is this you are using

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