The ball is a classic toy that can be traced back to the beginning of civilization. While some parents are always on the lookout for the latest trends in toys for babies and toddlers, they should never underestimate the amount of fun that can be had with a ball. The old phrase “we’re having a ball” had to come from somewhere! The best part is, balls provide a ton of developmental opportunities in addition to being a lot of fun.
Developmental Benefits of Playing with Balls
When babies and toddlers play with balls, they build:
● Temporal Awareness, which helps children time and coordinate movements
● Eye-Hand Coordination
● Gross Motor Skills
● Fine Motor Skills
● Object Permanence
● Spatial Awareness
● Grasping Skills
● Problem-Solving Skills
● Balance and Coordination
● Language Skills, including pragmatic (social) skills
There are a variety of ways you can utilize ball play depending on your child’s developmental stage. However, it’s important to remember that the ball should always be big enough so it’s not a choking hazard.
Ball Activities for Infants
From assisted tummy time on a large exercise ball to introducing your baby to rolling and kicking balls, engage in ball-play as early as possible! Our BabySparks development program includes activities to help you do it. Sensory balls (with textured surfaces) are a great way to stimulate your baby’s sense of touch.
Ball Activities for Toddlers
Your toddler can gain a lot from playing with large, lightweight balls such as a kickball or a beach ball. She’ll be amazed by what a ball can do! Simple things, like discovering the effects of kicking, bouncing, throwing, or rolling a ball all support her development. Free play with a ball can spark her critical thinking skills and creativity. What can I do with this ball? How hard can I throw it? How high can I throw it? Can I catch it? As she experiments with all of the different ways she can interact with the ball, she’s building her motor skills, spatial skills, and eye-hand coordination. Remember that playing simple ball activities with her, such as rolling or kicking the ball back and forth, isn’t only great for her development, but also helps build critical social skills such as turn-taking, sharing, and following rules.
Toddlers can also benefit from playing with smaller balls, such as a tennis ball or a Wiffle ball, which give them the opportunity to practice throwing a ball with just one hand. To help build your child’s spatial skills and problem-solving skills, play a hit-the-target game, like our BabySparks “basketball” activity.
Don’t forget to include your little one’s peers in ball play! They will need your guidance, because they don’t yet have the skills for collaborative play on their own, but facilitating various ball games amongst toddlers is an excellent way to nurture those social skills we mentioned above.
Lastly, keep in mind that ball skills fall under the umbrella of “fundamental movement skills” which, when mastered, contribute to ongoing fitness and overall health throughout life!