A ball is a powerful toy and learning tool for young children, especially toddlers. Balls help toddlers practice grasping and moving objects from one hand to the other, and they also help them develop tracking skills. In Encouraging Physical Activity in Toddlers, Steve Sanders, EdD, suggests that toddlers need a ball that is at least eight inches in diameter. Once children have improved their ball-handling skills, the size of the ball can be reduced. He also recommends that parents and caregivers have a variety of different sizes and colors of balls available for toddlers to choose from.
Since they are lighter than most balls and move more slowly in the air, beach balls are particularly useful in tracking activities. Here are a few examples Sanders provides in his book:
- Tap the beach ball in the air, and ask the toddler to tap it back to you with his or her hands. To do this, children will have to watch the ball as it travels in the air, move his or her body, and then raise his or her hands to strike.
- Practice striking the ball with different body parts, including knees, elbows, and fists.
- Gently toss the ball to the toddler at a low level so the toddler can raise his or her foot and kick it back to you.
Other Types of Balls
In Encouraging Physical Activity in Toddlers, Steve Sanders also lists the following examples as easy tracking activities you can do with other balls that are appropriate for toddlers. These activities are a great way to help children develop their hand-eye coordination:
- Teach early ball-handling skills by rolling a ball back and forth between you and the toddler. Sit across from each other with your legs spread apart. Be sure to choose a large, lightweight ball for this activity. Roll the ball gently to the toddler, and ask the toddler to catch it in his or her arms and roll it back to you. You can move farther apart as the toddler's skills increase—this will help the toddler focus on the ball for longer periods of time and he or she will get more practice with tracking the ball.
- Another option would be to stand up and roll the ball back and forth, or you can turn around and roll the ball to the toddler by passing it backward between your legs. If you have a small ramp or slide, you can also roll the ball up and down the ramp.
- Turn a large box or empty trash can on its side to set up a target for the toddler. Ask him or her to roll the ball into the target. You can also set up two cones (or water bottles, chairs, etc.) and ask him or her to roll the ball between the two objects. You can move the objects closer together and have the toddler stand farther away as he or she improves.