What child can see a ball and not want to roll or bounce it? By simply rolling and bouncing a ball, children are learning about cause and effect, developing motor control, and building eye-hand coordination. Add a few different types of balls, and children use observation and prediction skills to investigate their properties. When you combine an enticing ball with another exciting object — a hoop — you have the ingredients for creative play that covers the gamut of curriculum areas.

In the following activities, children will explore math and science topics as well as strengthen their physical-development skills. More important, children will be having so much fun that they won't even suspect all the wonderful learning that is happening!

Getting Started

Before introducing the activities, give children time to explore the balls and hoops. Then, try these ideas:

  • Bring in a variety of balls and ball-shaped items. These could include small to large balls, even cotton balls, fabric ball "tassels," and ball bearings. What makes something a ball? Encourage children to explore the different objects as you discuss what they notice about them.
  • Ask children to hypothesize about how some of these balls are used. You might start a conversation about games that are played with balls. Children can brainstorm a list of "ball games" they know.
  • Try this simple "roll the ball" game to get things started. Say one word that describes how you feel today (happy!) and then roll a ball to someone in the circle. That person says how she is feeling (tired) and rolls it to someone else. Not only will children have fun with the balls, they will be expressing themselves too!
  • Introduce the hoops. Show children a hoop and ask them to suggest different ways to use it. Encourage them to use their imaginations to think what the giant 0 shape could be. How could it be a doorway? A bubble pipe?

Using the Activities

With all this "ball talk," children will be ripe and ready to get outside and explore! Use the activities as they are written as a starting place. Then, think about ways to challenge children by adding new materials, new concepts, or questions. For example:

  • Have a stopwatch or other type of timer to expand the ball and hoop activity. Children can make predictions about which type of ball will roll the fastest. Then change the size of the hoop to see how that affects the timing.
  • Introduce the concept of measurement by inviting children to use string to measure the circumference of the different balls and hoops.
  • How can you use the balls and hoops together? Just by asking a simple question, children can start thinking about all the different ways balls and hoops work together for play and learning.

Making Observations

As children participate in ball and hoop activities, watch for the following:

  • Can children bounce, catch, throw, and roll with ease, grace, and strength?
  • Can children think of new ways to use the balls and hoops? Do they need a few ideas to get them started, or do they work with the materials themselves to create the ideas?
  • Is it easy or difficult for children to shift from using balls and hoops for active play to using them for educational and scientific explorations?
  • How do children share materials and negotiate team playing?

Conversations and Questions

The following questions are just the thing to get children thinking about these childhood favorites:

  • Are all balls round?
  • Do all balls bounce?
  • Does the size of the ball affect the height of the bounce?
  • How are a ball and a hoop similar? How are they different?
  • What can you do with a hoop that you can't do with a ball?
  • How many ways do people use balls? Hoops?
  • How can you and a partner balance a ball between you without using your hands? Can you walk that way?
  • How can you move like a giant bubble being blown through a hoop?
  • How many different ways can you use a hoop?
  • Which is bigger around, your head or a ball? How can we find out?

Building Skills With Balls & Hoops Use your creativity to adapt or extend the balls and hoops activity ideas offered here to help children build skills in:

  • Predicting
  • Counting 
  • Estimating
  • Measuring
  • Fine-motor coordination
  • Eye-hand coordination
  • Gross motor
  • Social interaction

Use Balls & Hoops to Explore...

  • Size and shape
  • Circumference (measurement)
  • Bounce-ability!
  • Incline plane
  • Time
  • Inertia
  • Gravity