In a world of electronic toys with flashing lights and stimulating sounds, it’s easy to forget about the classic simple toys that have been around for centuries. The Ball is one such toy. It’s so simple, and yet so versatile. It delights kids of every age. Its uses grow and change as a child develops and discovers new uses and games to play. Balls are perfect for solo play, one on one with a parent, or in a whole group of kids. Here are some great ideas you can use to interact with your baby during playtime while stimulating baby’s motor and social developmental skills:
Start young. Small, hard rubber or plastic balls are great toys for a growing infant starting around three months of age. Baby is just learning to push up on her tummy and lift her head up high to see what is on the floor in front of her. Baby is also practicing her reaching and grasping skills. At this age, baby is learning the “palmar” grasp – she is grabbing things with her whole hand (finger grasping comes later). A small ball, about 1 ½ to 2 inches across, will fit perfectly into baby’s tiny grasp. A few colorful balls placed in front of baby on the floor will stimulate her pushing up, reaching and grabbing skills. Babies also love to explore items with their mouths, and firm rubber, plastic, or even soft plush balls are favorites for baby’s curious mouth.
Sitting up. Around six months of age baby is beginning to sit up without falling over. This is the perfect time for parents to begin one-on-one ball play with baby. Sit in front of baby on the floor and roll a ball towards him. His reaching and aiming skills will get a great work out as he pounces on each ball that comes his way. Baby is also learning to transfer objects back and forth between hands. Watch as baby picks up a ball with one hand, passes it to the other, and then brings it to his mouth for a taste. Then roll in a second ball and watch as baby grabs it too. A third ball rolled into the game really begins to stimulate baby’s thinking. Watch as baby realizes he is out of hands, puts down one ball to pick up the third. This exercise really enhances baby’s decision processing skills. Of course baby is also teething at this age, so make sure the balls are small enough for baby to soothe his sore gums on, but big enough so they don’t fit completely into baby’s mouth.
Talk it up. As you play ball with baby, be sure to verbalize what you are doing. The word “ball” is such an easy word for baby to learn to say, since “ba” is often one of the first babbling sounds baby makes. Playfully say the word “ball” to baby throughout your playtime. As baby grows, add actions to your words, such as “roll the ball”, “bounce the ball” and “get the ball”. Baby will learn what these words mean much faster if you associate the words with actions as you play.
Around nine months of age baby begins to learn about object permanence – the ball still exists even though you’ve hidden it behind your back. Playing “where’s the ball” together is a great way to stimulate baby’s curiosity.
As baby grows into a toddler, balls are perfect for teaching baby her colors. Place a variety of colored balls in front of baby and show her “this is the RED ball”, etc. Then test baby’s learning by asking her to pick up each color in turn. Start out with only two colors and work your way up as baby learns.
Play ball. Around fifteen months, or once baby is walking well, it’s time to really play ball. Most babies will automatically learn to throw a ball themselves, and you can join in the fun and through back and forth. Be sure to keep a variety of ball types and sizes around for baby’s varying moods and skills. Large beach balls are great for two-handed picking up and throwing, as well as kicking. Large rubber inflated balls are perfect for bouncing fun. Smaller plastic balls will give baby’s arm a good workout. As you join baby in his throwing, bouncing, and rolling play, encourage his advanced actions by verbalizing “kick kick kick!”, “bounce bounce” or “good throw!” For any sports fans, turn on football, baseball, basketball, or whatever sport you enjoy, buy baby her own ball to match, and include your child in what you are watching. Then join her on the floor to teach her how each game is played with its own unique ball. Getting your child interested in sports early on will enhance her motor skills and may generate interests that will keep her active as she grows through childhood. And be sure to take the game outside as often as you can. Outside play keeps you both in shape.