These days it seems as though every learning toy for your infant or toddler lights up, plays music, talks or plugs into a computer. While these types of toys can be both stimulating and educational for your tot, he can have just as much fun with a simple ball. So take an afternoon and get back to the basics with some interactive games for you and your child to enjoy.
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Let your child play with balls of different texture and size such as smooth, bumpy, squishy, koosh or foam to encourage sensory development. Your toddler explores his environment, in part, through touch and the variety of textures will be interesting for him to feel. If you’re playing with a toddler you can begin teaching him to throw the ball; this activity encourages balance and coordination. Show him how size, weight or the material of the ball changes how far he can throw it, or if it takes one hand or two to throw.
Roll the Ball
Rolling a ball back and forth is a game even a very young child can enjoy. If your child can sit unassisted, he can learn to roll the ball. This activity challenges his balance, improves posture and develops gross motor skills for early sitters. Older toddlers will also enjoy rolling the ball back and forth; a more active toddler may also like rolling the ball at a tower of blocks or empty water bottles -- to simulate bowling -- and the added challenge of trying to knock toys down will make it even more fun for him.
Kick the Ball
Learning to kick the ball can be a big challenge for a toddler as it requires the shifting of weight between the feet and a coordinated effort to focus on kicking the ball. Your toddler is sure to enjoy the challenge, and as he advances in his skill you can set up a goal using two plastic cups a few feet in front of your toddler and encourage him to kick the ball between the cups.
Using a soft ball, toss or roll the ball back and forth between you and your child while reciting the alphabet. This activity grows with your child as you can begin singing the song even with a small infant and work up to alternating letters with your toddler as they learn the alphabet, all the way until your toddler can say the alphabet all by himself. You can also help your toddler learn to count using this same activity.
Ramp and Roll
Set up a cutting board at an angle against a couch cushion or low stack of books; show your child how to roll the ball down the cutting board. Your child enjoys learning how things work and will like repeating this activity with balls of different sizes. Watching you perform the activity and mirroring your actions can foster a sense of self-confidence and self-efficacy, as he learns he can be successful.