The following is a post from contributing writer Angie.
For five years, after receiving my masters degree in special education, I worked doing in-home therapy for children under the age of three with developmental delays and disabilities. I found during that time that many of the parents hoped that buying expensive equipment or special toys were necessary for early learning play. I loved, however, to show them ways they could use toys and objects that they likely already had around the house in very purposeful ways.
Here are thirteen fun activities for very young children with the simple, but classic, children’s toy — the ball.
1. Use balls with a variety of textures to encourage different sensory experiences. Let your child explore the feeling of these balls. Examples of balls with a variety of textures around the house may include: basketball, rubber “playground” ball, ping pong ball, soccer ball, tennis ball, softball/baseball, football, nubby ball, Koosh ball.
2. Roll a ball (of any variety) back and forth with your child. Sitting in just one spot is a great way to work on balance for very young children. For this activity, make sure to work with your child on keeping the ball on the ground. It is not uncommon for children to get excited and throw the ball instead.
3. Now it’s time to throw the ball! For working on throwing and catching balls, young children tend to have more success with larger balls. A beach ball (or slightly smaller ball) is perfect for younger children. As they grow older, you can work toward throwing and catching with smaller balls.
4. An extension of throwing balls is the activity “Knock Down a Tower.” You can build up a block tower, put empty plastic bottles around, or use some other easily knocked over object as a target for your child to throw toward. Children will typically be very excited for this new way to knock over objects. (If you have a “no throwing in the house” rule, you may want to do this activity outdoors as to not confuse your child when you encourage them to do something that is against the rules in your home.)
5. Solo Throw and Catch - You can model for your child how to (lightly) throw the ball in the air straight up and catch it. This is a harder skill for very young children – be prepared that the ball may go everywhere. This is great to try once your child has the hang of throwing and catching with a partner.
6. Work on kicking a ball (playground ball or larger) that is stationary. While it may be tempting to roll the ball to your child for them to kick it, definitely start with a ball at rest first.
7. Once they are pros at stationary kicking, move to rolling ball kicking. When beginning this, roll the ball very slowly. As their skills progress, so can the speed that you roll. As with any activity, it’s fun to reverse rolls and have your child try to roll the ball for you to kick it as well.
8. Name That Ball – Set up a variety of balls and have your child name the different types of balls. You can also work on naming them by color only, if they are unfamiliar with the actual types of balls.
9. Textured Ball Fun – There is a lot of free play that can be done with any ball that is quite a bit different from your average ball. This could include balls like a Koosh ball, textured balls, nubby balls, and stress balls. While these activities are good for all children, this is especially good for children to experience who have displayed some sensory defensiveness
10. Rolling on a large exercise ball can be great fun for young children! Other balls that are similar to exercise balls might be (very sturdy) beach balls or very large playground type balls. Have your child lay their belly on the ball as you gently roll them from side to side. You can also try this with them sitting on the top of the ball as you bounce them. This is a great activity for working on spatial and vestibular skills.
11. Bowling with soda bottles – If you have empty bottles (such as two liter soda bottles), a ball can be combined with these to have some impromptu bowling right inside the house.
12. Painting with marbles – Dip marbles into paint and then roll them around in a paper plate with an edge for a cool painting project. (When this is done with small children, an adult must be in constant supervision, as marbles are a choking hazard.)
13. Hide small balls under paper cups – This is a magic show favorite, but you don’t have to be a magician to have fun with this. Just try to be tricky with one small ball and three paper cups. Move the cups around and see if your child can find which cup holds the ball. An even more fun twist on this activity is allowing your child to be the one who hides the ball while you guess. Children often show a lot of pride in this activity, especially if they can “trick” you a few times.