Expert tips by Jan Jones (Early Childhood Educator)
Small, medium and large balls
Balls can be used by all ages of children. Babies who can sit up like to roll a ball, feel its roundness and see the bright colour. There are many ways to play with a ball; alone or with other children or adults. Babies can play with a ball in the house, but toddlers and older children will enjoy it more as an outside activity.
Try to have a selection of balls of different sizes, shapes and textures so that your child can experience a range of different ways to roll, throw, catch and kick. Plastic balls with a knobbly surface are often easier to hold but larger balls are easier to roll and for when the child is beginning to catch. They will use their whole arms for this early catching experience and gradually learn to catch a ball with their hands given sufficient practice.
Skills developed by ball play
Eye-hand or eye-foot coordination
The child learns to predict at which stage they need to let go of a ball to allow it to leave their hand when throwing or rolling.
A more difficult task is calculating when they should put out their arms or hands to catch a ball.
Coordinating the angle at which they need to swing their leg and foot to make contact with a ball when kicking is an extremely difficult task which becomes easier with practice
Following the path of a ball with their eyes is essential if a child is going to be able to catch or hit a ball with a bat
This involves the use of the small muscles of the hands, feet, head and eyes to throw, roll, catch or hit a ball
The large muscles of the arms, legs, hips and back are used to make sure the body is in the right position to control ball action
Put your baby in a sitting position on the floor with her legs apart and hands out to catch the ball. Roll it to her and tell her ‘catch’ as soon as the ball touches his fingers.
As a baby is learning to crawl he or she can push a ball and follow it. Tell your baby the name of toys – ‘ball’. ‘Roll the ball to Mum”.
Toddlers can roll, throw, kick or bounce a ball. It is usually best to teach your child to throw or kick a ball outside and roll it in the house. Children who are learning to walk can play a rolling game with sisters, brothers or parents. They like to talk about balls too. You can say ‘bring me the ball’; ‘roll the ball to sister’; and so on. This teaches your child to follow directions and also gives their muscles lots of exercise.
Girls and boys who can walk and talk easily might like to tell the colour of the ball – RED, and say it is ROUND. If they have 2 or 3 balls, they like to say which is BIGGEST and which one is SMALLEST.
Children like to play rolling, catching, kicking games with other people. They can also bounce balls, although they may have trouble catching them again. Practice will help your child do better.
Simple batting practice
Place a small soft ball (tennis ball size) in the toe of a stocking. Tie it to the clothesline or other suitable place so that it is about your child’s waist height. Use the cardboard inside of a lunch-wrap roll for the bat. Show the child how to hit the ball and congratulate them each time they hit the ball. The soft ball and cardboard tube make it less likely that the child will be injured if they hit themselves with the ball or bat. This is a home-made version of the Totem Tennis type game or the T-ball sets that you can buy and gives the child plenty of practice before they progress to more advanced batting games.