Benefits of Ball Play for Toddlers
The toy ball is believed to be one of the oldest toys known to humans. Ancient Egyptians and Romans left clues depicting how balls were used and what they were made of.
Through archeological discoveries, including artifacts, drawings, and scrolls, for hundreds and thousands of years, balls made of papyrus, leather, straw for stuffing, and inflated pigs’ bladders have been found throughout history.
Perhaps our ancestors, long before us, knew the intellectual advantage those who routinely participated in ball play would have and helped establish the foundation for modern ball play, including ball sports.
Ball play can be a fun way to spend time with friends and family, but the developmental benefits can sometimes be overlooked.
Children, especially toddlers, should be encouraged to engage in activities using the classic toy.
Aside from entertainment, balls help introduce and improve gross and fine motor skills, spatial awareness, hand-eye coordination, and problem-solving skills, to name a few benefits.
There are numerous ways to incorporate ball play into daily schedules and routines, whether at home, daycare, preschool, visiting friends and family, or taking a trip to the local park.
What are the benefits of playing ball games?
Gross and Fine Motor Skills
Motor skills are necessary for life. We use them without thinking about it most time, and other times we plan and prepare for when specific tasks may require certain skills.
Gross motor skills use several muscles simultaneously and large muscle groups to complete an action. Kicking, running, throwing, and walking are excellent examples of how we use gross motor skills.
Fine motor skills use fewer and smaller groups, such as fingers and toes. Writing, drawing, grasping, holding a toy, and wriggling toes are a few fine motor skills.
What do children learn from rolling a ball?
Ball play improves motor skills through catching, throwing, tossing, kicking, rolling, bouncing, and holding. As toddlers become more familiar with the mobility of their limbs and fingers, dressing, cleaning, and eating tasks become easier and more independently done.
Up, down, under, over, going through, left, and right are all parts of spatial awareness.
When toddlers are allowed to play with toys and balls, they are learning where the toy goes with different actions, what it does with an intended movement, and can begin to think, plan, and solve a way to initiate the desired result.
A toddler learning to play basketball with an older sibling or parent will realize that the ball must be tossed up to go through the hoop and net to gain a point. Soccer requires a ball to stay down on the ground and be kicked across the field in forwarding, left, or right motions.
In tennis, the ball must bounce no more than once, remain up in the air, and go over the net. These are just a few examples of how spatial awareness and ball play will grow with toddlers.
As fine motor skills improve, hand-eye coordination is working at the same time. We practice coordination when our eyes and hands work together to grab, grasp, touch, pick up, and reach.
With repetitious ball play, toddlers can practice looking for the ball they want to use, picking it up, throwing or tossing the ball, and eventually being able to catch it when the ball is thrown back.
How do toddlers learn to balance?
Learning to stay standing while kicking and throwing a ball is a significant milestone for some toddlers. Improving balance helps with posture, walking, running, standing, and finding more independence through natural core strength.
Why are ball skills important for children?
By nine months, most babies will have basic problem-solving skills achieved. Reflexes, action-reaction, cause and effect, and object performance are all part of the initial skills for solving problems a baby may encounter within their first year.
As babies become toddlers, more in-depth issues will arise that they will need to work through, such as fitting a square toy into a square box or putting shoes on the correct feet.
Ball play introduces new problems to solve. It is not unusual for most lessons to be understood through trial and error, but once self-thinking has become a habit, problem-solving should get much easier.
A few examples of this can be seen through questions a child may ask themselves after observing other social interactions. “How do I get the ball from where I am to my mom without taking it to her? If I kick the ball too hard, it will go too far.
If I throw the ball at the house, I could break a window, so I should throw it away from the house,” these are questions and situations a toddler may find they need to solve before or while playing.
What activities can you do with a ball?
Ball Play Activities for Toddlers
Start with large, soft, inflatable balls, like beach or pool balls, when playing with your toddler. The larger ball will make it easier to catch, toss, kick, and throw with a short distance between you and them.
As skills improve, gradually add space for more room to practice playing catch or kicking. Using large laundry baskets as goals, practice kicking balls into the baskets or sit them upright to toss a ball into a makeshift hoop.
The next step is backyards, parks, playgrounds, and other areas with enough room to toss or kick the ball. When ready, try moving away from the giant inflatable ball to volleyballs, soccer balls, and basketballs.
Different textures and sizes will help with memory and visual recognition when specific balls are used in other situations, such as sporting events or games with friends and family.
When you feel your toddler is ready, tennis balls, baseballs, and golf balls will be the next adventure.
By this time, your child should be prepared to aim for smaller goals and baskets and potentially have a favorite sport they want to explore more.