Julianne Janiszewski PT, MSPT
“I don’t want my toddler throwing things… My child doesn’t like balls…We aren’t a sports family… We don’t have space to play with a ball…The dog destroys the kids’ balls…I brought my child to physical therapy so you can help him/her be less clumsy, not to play with balls.” These are all comments we’ve heard when ball skills come up in therapy sessions.
Your child may be receiving physical therapy services because of concerns about tripping, falling, clumsiness, muscle weakness, or gross motor skills deficits. When assessing these areas, we also assess a child’s ball skills. We assess this area with all children because success with ball skills provides a critical foundation for many other areas of development including more advanced gross and fine motor skills, visual-motor integration, bilateral coordination, and more. For this reason, we often address and work on ball-skill activities in our therapy sessions.
Visual-motor development is critical for children, and it starts in infancy as babies first begin to reach for and grab things in their field of vision. Giving a baby the opportunity to explore ball play allows them to develop a three-dimensional concept of their world, learn about object permanence, helps to strengthen and coordinate visual tracking, and learn to predict and develop timing. These skills help develop the visual tracking and discrimination required for reading and the spatial awareness required for math.
Providing the opportunity for your child to play with a ball is a win-win situation. A wide variety of balls in every size and for every use are available:
Soft balls Small balls Large balls Yoga balls
Textured balls Squishy balls Bouncy balls Colored balls
Floating balls Balls that sink Wiffle balls O balls
Noisy balls Balloons Beach balls Footballs
Basketballs Foam balls Tennis balls Glow in the dark balls.
Paper wads Cotton balls Ping pong balls And many more….
Ball play is beneficial in different ways at every age and every developmental stage:
Babies: Babies love to watch a ball roll. A baby can manipulate a soft ball in space. He/she can use both hands to can learn to corral and then catch a ball, transfer a ball between each hand, use gross motor skills to retrieve a ball that they throw or roll, and learn balance skills in sitting when picking up a ball.
Toddlers: A toddler continues ball play by exploring kicking, bouncing, throwing, tossing and putting balls in targets. A ball is something a toddler can control. A toddler improves balance by picking up a ball, learning to kick a ball, and walking/running on varied surfaces and inclines when retrieving a ball. Toddlers learn to pull a ball towards their body to catch. A toddler can learn to play ball with another person and develop social interaction.
Preschoolers: Preschoolers continue to develop control in catching, throwing, and kicking balls. They enjoy experimenting with different types of balls. They can learn simple ball games. They can learn to strike a ball with a bat, golf club, hockey stick, or lacrosse.
School Age Children: Children at this age start to develop their critical thinking skills with balls. If they process slowly, they will enjoy ball activities that accommodate their slow response time. Playing ball with a parent, T ball, kicking a slowly rolling ball, striking a tether ball, and shooting basketball at a lowered goal.
Follow your child’s lead and have fun with ball play and ball sports. Encourage your child and celebrate their new skills. Create successful experiences so that your child enjoys and wants to continue to play. Remember improving ball skills helps your child develop skills that benefit him/her for life.