There are many innovative toys for children on the market today, but one that continues to stand the test of time for its ability to encourage the whole child’s development over many years of growth is a ball.
Babies learn about the world through sensory integration, balls are something babies can see, touch, and interact with and better yet, their parents are their favorite teammate. When selecting balls for play with baby, you might choose textured balls or try slightly deflating the ball so it is easier for baby to grip. You might look for an “O ball” that baby can squeeze and grip. These are great for babies because they are soft and safe. According to the NAEYC, caregivers should provide play objects that are “made of materials and scaled to a size that lets infants grasp, chew, and manipulate them (Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs, 3rd edition, C., and S. Bredekamp, eds. 2009).”
Roll the ball with your baby while sitting or when baby is enjoying tummy time. This type of play encourages gross-motor development as baby reaches and grasps the ball with both hands. You will help baby to build finger strength and strengthen the muscles needed for sitting. Rolling the ball also helps to encourage visual tracking and supports hand –eye coordination. The parent / child time will also help the child to learn social skills of communication as the play goes back and forth between you and baby and it’s a wonderful time to bond with baby. Try singing as you roll the ball back and forth; “I roll the ball to you, you roll the ball to me, I roll the ball to you and you roll the ball to me.”
Parents of infants 3- 6 months can try using a large exercise ball to stimulate baby. Try putting the ball against a wall and firmly holding it in place with your feet. Place a towel on the balls surface, then place baby on the ball for tummy time. You can gently bounce the ball and slightly roll it from side to side. This is great for strengthening neck muscles.
One to Two-year old’s are ready to work on their eye/hand coordination. Parents can introduce catching and throwing, however this involves a series of complicated movements and muscles to control. Toddlers may attempt to throw objects at around 18 months, but catching will wait till age 3 or 4 and resembles hugging the ball to their chest. With any new skill it takes lots of practice. Parents can offer their throwers different types of objects such as bean bags, foam balls, and beach balls. Use baskets or boxes as the target, moving some close and some farther away. Parents can be more engaging with their toddler by sitting at the child’s level and playing along.
Check out this quick reference guide on typical motor development milestones and this new app from The Learning Child, UR Parent. It is full of information for parents in the first year of your child’s life. This app is geared to the specific age of your baby. Information on child development and parenting from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. This app also features a baby book for the busy on-the-go parents. The UR parent app is handy to keep track of your immunization records on your phone, and also allows you to record special events such as the date your baby takes their first step. With UR parent, questions you have about taking care of your child are just a fingertip away.
Ages and Stages
Remember, every child develops at their own pace. The ages and stages mentioned earlier are an approximate range in developmental milestones. Parents can support their child’s growth and development by offering time and opportunity as well as safe balls to explore this gross motor play. NAEYC also tells us that caregivers should “allow toddlers freedom to explore their movements by testing what their bodies are capable of doing (Copple, C., and S. Bredekamp, eds. 2009).” Follow the child’s lead and continue the play as long as they are interested, but do not force this type of play. Your child will indicate to you when they have lost interest and are ready for the “7th inning stretch.”
What creative ways have you tried introducing balls in your routine with children?
LYNN DEVRIES, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD
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