BALLS ARE WONDERFUL because children can use them in so many ways - ways that change as youngsters master new skills and learn new concepts.
Infants and Toddlers
At this age, ball play helps children develop grasping skills, eye-hand coordination, tracking, finger muscles, and the ability to move objects from one hand to another. Cognitively, infants and toddlers learn about the properties of balls: They bounce, roll down hills, are easy to move and difficult to keep still. As youngsters play with balls, they begin to get the feel of repetitive rhythms - bouncing, grasping, and squeezing. Just remember that balls for infants and toddlers must be large enough to pass a choke-tube test.
Ball play at this age can help children master individual gross-motor skills, such as kicking, throwing, catching, aiming, rolling, bouncing, and tracking. Social skills, too, come into play as children participate in simple games - rolling, throwing, and kicking balls to one another. Though preschool children are often beginning to learn the games of their cultures, this is not a time for activities that require many rules or emphasize winning and losing.
Bounce These Around
- Encourage a toddler to play with and practice rolling a large, lightweight ball. Then place a large cardboard box on its side, with the opening toward the child. Starting with the box very close, challenge the toddler to roll the ball so it goes into the box. Then help him move farther and farther away as he begins to master this activity.
- Use an indoor or outdoor toddler-size slide and position one toddler at the top and the other at the bottom. Ask the child at the top to roll a large, lightweight ball down the slide to her partner, who catches it, walks around the slide and returns the ball, and goes back to catch it again. After a while, children can change places. To make the game more difficult, ask the child at the bottom to move farther away.
- Ask children to sit in a circle. Explain that the object of this game is to see how long they can hit a beach ball to each other without letting it touch the ground. As they master the game, add a few challenges: No one can hit the ball twice in a row; children can hit the ball only with the part of their body you call out (knees, heads, and so on).
- Collect clean cans or plastic bottles and label each with a different bright color. Help children stack the cans and then roll, throw, or kick a fairly large ball at them. Have experience-chart paper and matching color markers nearby so you can help children graph the colors and number of cans they knock down according to the technique they use.