Develop your child’s ball skills

Read these tips from Susanne Hugo, Mysmartkid’s occupational therapist that will help you develop your child’s ball skills!

The development of your little one’s ball skills include them getting the hang of a variety of different abilities such as bouncing, catching, throwing, kicking and hitting a ball with a bat. These skills are influenced by your little athlete’s muscle tone, gross motor coordination, sense of balance, ability to cross the midline, bilateral integration, eye movement, visual perception and hand function.

But of course these skills are developed in a specific sequence as your sweetheart’s abilities improve at each age. Here is an outline of that sequence and what you can expect at each stage:

  • During your baby’s first year, the very first step will be for them to try picking up a ball using both hands. By the end of the year, they will also start dropping the ball or handing it to you.
  • Between the ages of 1 and 2 years, your sweetie pie will start rolling and throwing a ball. They will most likely still struggle to do this in a specific direction, but towards the end of the year, they will be able to throw the ball forward without losing their balance. You’ll also catch them walking to the ball, lifting a foot and kicking in its direction.
  • By the age of 2 your toddler will start catching a big ball (about 20 cm in diameter) against their body. Be patient as they will still miss the catch quite often, but persist in ball games as this year sees a lot of rewarding improvement. By the end of the year, your child will be able to throw a ball overarm in a controlled way (even if they often miss the intended target) as well as run, stop and kick a ball with force and without falling.
  • By age 3 the fun really starts! During this year your little one’s ball skills improve to such an extent that they can catch and throw a tennis ball, throw a ball underarm, start batting and even catch a bouncing ball (if it isn’t too small).
  • Get ready for some activity. Between the ages of 4 and 5, your child can run and kick a ball as well as catch a ball which is bouncing directly towards them. It is completely normal for them to catch the ball against their body. By the end of the year, you will also see them hit a target when throwing the ball overarm.
  • At the age of 5, your little one can bounce a ball with two hands and, as their ball skills improve, they will get the hang of doing this with just one hand. Their catching skills will also improve making it possible for them to catch a ball with their hands, and without using their body, by the end of the year. Watch them as they also delight in kicking balls into the air!

There are a few things to keep in mind while helping your star athlete develop their ball skills:

  • Always be sure to start at an achievable level and slowly increase the degree of difficulty with each exercise.
  • Give lots of praise and encouragement!
  • Let your child play with a variety of balls with different shapes and sizes such as soccer, rugby, tennis, beach and golf balls.

Do you want to make the ball games a little easier or more difficult? Here are some pointers:

  • It’s always easier to catch, throw or hit a bigger ball such as a soccer ball instead of a tennis ball.
  • It’s easier to catch, throw or hit a lighter ball such as a beach ball instead of a soccer ball.
  • The closer you stand to your child, the easier it is for them to catch or hit a ball.
  • Throwing a ball directly towards your child makes it easier for them to respond than when the ball is being thrown from above or either side.
  • The harder you throw, the more difficult it will be for your little one to respond.
  • It is easier to catch a ball with two hands.
  • It is easier to catch a ball while standing still rather than walking or running.

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