All-round fun and more

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
Last week was all about virtual reality games, but, whatever the season, ball games still play a major part in our leisure and sporting consciousness, writes parenting columnist Ian Munro.

Ian Munro
Ian Munro

Children can have all the fancy stuff with all the bells and whistles, but when there's a ball around there's always fun to be had. And not only are they great fun, but balls can also be cheap to buy and are good for children developmentally.

Even very young babies can appreciate a ball. Hold one up and their eyes will be drawn to its outer edges, which have no straight lines or corners. Their eyes can travel easily around the spherical shape and their brains can begin distinguishing size differences. Soft, coloured balls that you can move slowly around them, let them grab at and touch them with are the most suitable. You might also think of a hanging mobile of different-coloured and sized balls

An older baby can begin tracking the movement of a ball as it bounces and rolls, while picking it up develops hand-eye co-ordination and fine motor skills.

Then follows rolling, throwing and catching, which all involve the co-ordination of timing and movement. A large-sized ball is best here because it's less likely to roll past and can be pushed easily, hugged and banged. Stopping the ball and rolling it back can be the best of fun. Then there's balls that float for bath time.

Repetition strengthens these pathways in the brain, so the ball is providing both physical and brain exercise.

Toddlers enjoy light bouncy balls they can chase and kick around. Balloons are great indoors and beach balls in water. Then there are Swiss balls - they're so big and yet so light for pushing around and trying to clamber on. An adult can also get a bit of a bounce going for them - but do this outdoors. A bouncing Swiss ball can be awesomely destructive indoors!

As they get a bit older, the kicks get a bit of power behind them, so it's wise to move back to those soft balls for indoor play and a good, sound, kick-able ball for outdoors. By the time they hit 3 years old, hand-eye co-ordination is such that hitting a ball with something starts to be fun - whether a ball on a string or playing hits and catches with a plastic bat or paddle.

The benefits of the ball now start to become social as well and nothing beats the sound of a group of children enjoying a game of backyard cricket or football.

Then, before you know it, it won't be balls you'll be buying but all the associated paraphernalia - studded boots, cricket whites, hockey sticks, a basketball hoop.


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