It's Never Too Early to Have a Ball
Deanna Macioce, MS, OTR/L
As we walk down the aisles of a toy store, we are overwhelmed with the packed shelves of all the toys that are available to our children today. There are toys that light up, sing, dance, and will practically do the playing for them. And the packaging of each toy boasts its benefits, highlighting the fine motor, gross motor, sensory, and learning skills that it may address. But one toy, an old traditional one that usually doesn't come with any packaging can address all these skills while allowing a child to be imaginative and versatile in his or her play. It is a ball. Whether it is a large ball, a playground ball, or even just a tennis ball, these make great toys!
Much of our leisure time revolves around ball playing. Almost every sport involves the use a ball, so from watching to playing sports, we often overlook the importance that ball skills have on our overall development. Playing sports and with balls are activities enjoyed by children of all ages. And to truly master these skills, doesn't mean we are gearing up to be the next big sports star, it means that we have mastered coordinating our whole body, while improving our hand-eye coordination.
This month we are going to highlight some of the benefits of early ball skills, including improving a child's coordination skills, performance in the classroom, and self-confidence. It is never too early to introduce your little one to a ball. Ball playing activities address so many skills including hand-eye coordination, bilateral hand skills and coordination, body awareness, left/right discrimination, balance, core stability and self-confidence. In addition, having strong ball handling skills and coordination also helps with improving your child's fine motor skills assisting with increasing his or her handwriting and manipulation skills.
Once your little one is reaching for objects, lay him/her on their back and gently drop a medium sized ball, for example an O Ball or Tactile Jelly Ball, encouraging them to use both hands to grasp it. And once they are sitting, rolling a medium or large sized ball back and forth provides lots of entertainment. They will love the anticipation of having the ball come towards them, and with the help of an adult or sibling, sending the ball back. This activity is also great to re-visit as they move into the toddler stage.
As you move into the toddler and pre-school stage, working on tossing balls of various sizes or bean bags into empty graduated boxes addresses hand-eye coordination for objects in the distance. In addition, it is always good to work on catching and kicking a ball. As this skill is mastered, making sure that the child is not using his or her body to complete the catch is important for improving core stability of the shoulders, elbows, and wrists. Another fun activity is using empty containers and trying to hit a small ball into them with a toy hammer, stick, or club.
Progressing into other skills, have a child stand and toss a ball at a target. You can increase the difficulty of this task by increasing the distance and using a smaller ball. In addition, the challenge can be increased with either giving the child a moving target, or placing the child on a moving object, such as a swing or balance board. It is also important to encourage the child to try and catch the ball as is comes back. Using a tennis ball, have the child bounce the ball to themselves, again ensuring that they are not using their body for stability. It is also fun to use a paddle to hit a ball, to each other and to themselves. For younger kids, attach some Zoo Pals (trademark) paper plates to sticks and paddle around a balloon.
Any organized sport is also recommended and will include some socialization, however it is important to pay attention to a child's interests. And sometimes the simplest of activities go a long way. So, the next time your child wants to head outside to play some catch or your patient grabs a ball to use in therapy, don't discourage it...you are providing the building blocks that will last a lifetime.
Southpaw Contest Winner
In last month's edition of Pawprint, we asked for your feedback in our Customer Service Survey. Congratulations to Denise Rollins, who was the winner of the $100 Southpaw Gift Certificate. We would like to thank everyone who took the time to fill out the survey. Look for more opportunites to win in upcoming newsletters.