The best thing about working with toddlers is that many of the things that we adults take for granted are endlessly fascinating and exciting to them.
The fact that a ball can move up into the air and come back down again is amazing when you are still learning to process concepts like gravity, trajectory, and angles, so your toddler will love playing ball games with you. They will be learning all about the world around them simultaneously.
Toddlers aren’t known for their great aim as they are at the beginning of learning to control a ball, so make sure you play the games below in a good-sized space with clear boundaries.
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Consider the size of the balls you are using with your toddler. Balls come in many shapes and sizes; some make sounds, and others light up – there is a dazzling array of resources to choose from. Try to choose a ball that is fairly soft and will fit comfortably into your toddler’s hands when they are outstretched. All you need to do is introduce the games below and have some fun.
As your toddler progresses and learns new skills, you can increase or decrease the size of the ball to add more challenges.
Rolling a ball is the best place to start to show your toddler how to gain control of a ball.
Start by drawing straight lines on the floor with a piece of chalk about 2m apart.
Put your toddler at one end of the line, and you sit at the other.
It will help if they sit with their legs apart to catch the ball in between at first.
Gently roll the ball along the line and ask your toddler to stop the ball.
Encourage them to roll it back to you, giving lots of smiles and encouragement.
If they can do that easily, show them how to make the line a little bit longer each time.
You can also count how many rolls you can do before the ball runs away.
They can use the lines and balls to practice when they have the idea.
2. Ramp roll
Make a simple ramp by putting a thin wood plank on top of a box or cupboard.
Show your toddler how to roll the balls down the ramp.
Encourage them to hold the ball still at the top by placing their hand on it.
Count one, two, three… and let go.
It sounds so simple, but toddlers will spend ages enjoying this game.
They are experimenting with gravity and speed, and it’s ultra-exciting for them.
You can ask them to run and catch the ball at the bottom or add a basket at the bottom to try catching the balls. You can use a selection of different-sized balls for this game.
This is a good game to introduce the concepts:
Fast and Slow
Long and short
Near and far
3. On track
If you already have a track marked in your setting, you can use it for this game, but if not, there is no need to worry – you can easily make a simple track by drawing on the concrete or paving with a large piece of chalk.
The track should ideally have curves and straight lines and be a circuit.
Help your toddler to roll a ball around the track, seeing if you can keep it on track around the circuit.
Give lots of encouragement, and if it does roll away, ensure your toddler knows they can always have another go.
New words to introduce in this game are:
Fast and slow
Straight and curved
Near and far
4. Home-made bowling
Following the games above, this is a great game to put those new rolling skills into practice.
Knocking over a bowling pin is so exciting when you are little. You can buy a set of pins relatively cheaply (for a higher-end set, try these), but I prefer to make my own as you can recycle some plastic bottles simultaneously.
Collect 10 clear plastic bottles of a similar size.
Fill each bottle with something to weigh it down.
You can use the following:
In fact, you can use anything you have around that makes a good rattling sound when the pins are knocked over. Make sure you screw the lids on the bottles tightly.
Stick some colorful numbers on the bottles or decorate them.
Line the bowling pins up in a long line and encourage your toddler to roll the ball toward the skittles and knock them over.
They should make a satisfying noise when they fall over.
If your toddler is ready, you can talk about which numbers have fallen over, but the key here is to be able to roll the ball toward a target and have lots of fun taking turns.
For more information on the benefits of ball play with toddlers, visit the website below:
Toddlers almost all go through a stage when they want to tip everything up. They seem to tip up toys endlessly without wanting to play with them. That is because they are experimenting with gravity. They may be trying to understand why toys look different when spread across the floor to when they are neatly packed in a box or basket.
You can help them to move through this stage by giving them plenty of practice at tipping.
You will need a washing basket, a similar container, and a pile of softballs.
These could be soft tennis balls, airflow balls, or a mixture.
Let your toddler tip all the balls up in a space with a good boundary so that the balls can’t run too far away.
Say, Ready, steady…tip!
Watch their delight as the balls spill out and roll in all directions.
Make a game of running after the balls and putting them back in the basket to do it all over again, which also encourages tidy-up skills.
6. Throw me a ball (Underarm throw)
We adults can take the skill of throwing for granted, but when your little muscles are still developing, and you don’t have much coordination yet, throwing can be difficult for toddlers to master.
Play outside for this game, and make sure you have a good space with high boundaries.
Firstly, show your toddler how to throw using an underarm throw.
Show your toddler how to make big circles with your arms first to get them swinging their arms back and forth.
Show them how to hold the ball in your hand, roll your arm upwards, and then let go of the ball before they get to the top.
Throw your ball up into the sky, and then let them have a go at doing the same.
Be prepared to lose a few balls during this game as they will need to practice, but keep it fun.
For this game, you will need about 6 plastic wash baskets or containers of a similar size.
Place the baskets in a space.
There should be enough room to walk between each basket or container, but not much more.
Using the skills, you praised in the last game, show your toddler how to throw upwards by rolling your arm upwards from your shoulder. Encourage them to swing their arms, the same as you.
Remind them to let go of the ball as you swing by opening their fingers.
See if they can throw their ball into the air and get it to land in one of the baskets.
Give a big cheer if they can, but if they miss, it is not a problem. Simply encourage them to have another go.
8. Hide the ball
Most Toddlers are still learning about object permanence. That means they don’t always understand that it still exists when an object has disappeared from their sight. If they can’t see it, as far as they are concerned, it no longer exists. Sometimes, we see this when toddlers drop their spoon or an object from their high chair for you to pick it up. Often, they will repeat this action as they try to work out how the spoon or object keeps returning and reappearing. Games like hide and seek, peek-a-boo, and hide the ball can help to develop their sense of object permanence.
If you can, choose a special ball for this game. A particularly colorful ball that lights up or flashes would be perfect.
Show it to your toddler and tell them to hide their eyes as you hide them from them.
Help them to search for the ball and give lots of praise if they can find it.
9. Balance the ball
Balancing is hard for toddlers, so be particularly patient with this game. You will need some sturdy round bats and soft balls. Show your toddler how to balance the ball on the bat.
See if they can hold it still while standing on the spotted bat first. Toddlers usually wobble and will let it drop to the floor, so keep trying.
Next, try to walk, balancing the ball on the racket.
This is also tricky as toddlers tend to tip the racket downwards and lose the ball, so encourage them to hold the racket level and take little steps.
If they can walk even a few steps balancing the ball, give lots of praise.
10. Balls on the parachute
If you are lucky enough to have a parachute, this is a great game for your toddler to understand that balls roll and bounce up and down.
For a medium-sized parachute, you will need three or four adults and toddlers holding the handles in between.
Everyone should move the parachute handles together in upwards and downward movements like a wave. Start with one ball. Place it on the parachute and start to roll the ball around the parachute. Do this a few times, saying:
Roller roller roller ball,
Round and round and round us all.
Add another ball and then another to see if you can keep the momentum going.
Then move upwards and downwards to make all the balls bounce up and down, saying:
Bouncing, bouncing, bouncing ball,
Bouncing higher than us all!
11. Beach ball
Toddlers love this game – it’s exciting and lots of fun.
Encourage all the toddlers in the group to hold the handles of the parachute and move the parachute gently up and down, as in the game above. When you can all move in unison, gradually increase the height of the parachute until it moves up into a circus tent shape and back down again. Throw a beach ball into the middle and bounce as high as possible. Try to keep the beach ball in play for as long as possible.
You can repeat this with a selection of balls like airflow, softballs, and ping pong balls. Throw them all onto the parachute simultaneously as it’s moving downwards and bounce them up into the air. They will eventually roll away and spill off the parachute but keep it going until the last ball bounces.
This game is great for teamwork and developing shared attention and concentration skills.
12. Scoop the color
Toddlers are learning about the world around them, including the names of colors. This is a fun way to practically introduce the different names of colors so that the toddlers get plenty of movement and exercise.
In a large space, tip out various colored balls and let them roll across the floor.
(Tip – if you only have balls of one color, mark each with a colored permanent marker or stick colored stickers on your balls).
Give your toddler a matching-colored container.
Shout Ready, steady, Go!
Run and collect the balls and see if they can match and sort them into the corresponding-colored containers.
This is a good game to encourage color matching, but it also helps with retrieving and fetching the balls, keeping everyone active and learning simultaneously.
Toddlers are usually not ready to participate in games with lots of rules as they prefer to follow their agenda as they learn about the world around them. The games above are all suitable for toddlers, but never force your toddler to join in. Instead, encourage them by modeling the games to them and showing them how much fun, you are having, and let them choose to come to you when they are ready. As always, the key to learning is to keep it lots of fun.
Tried these ideas, and you would like more? Try the website below for many more ideas: