26 Jan, 2014

Positive Relationships: A Parent’s guide to… Ball Skills

05 April 2013 written by Dr Lala Manners published by Nursery World

Many sports and games require good balls skills, but learning to catch, throw, kick and aim benefits young children in ways far beyond the playing field.


Learning balls skills when they are young enables children to:

  • take advantage of sports and games opportunities when they are older
  • develop eye-tracking and focusing skills
  • develop co-ordination and control
  • learn about team-work and decisionmaking
  • develop perseverance
  • support others less able than themselves
  • experience success and failure
  • have fun taking part in activities involving the whole family.


You don’t need expensive kit or a large open space to practise basic ball skills. Managing a ball made from rolled-up socks is much more challenging than using a conventional ball – try it!

Always involve your child in planning the activities (such as rolling up socks), and playing for about five to ten minutes at a time is probably enough.

Remember that not all children are even interested in ball activities, so avoid putting any pressure on your child to learn. Playing with a ball should be fun and stress-free.

If you use accessible, everyday equipment that is completely safe, you will find that your child will practise the skills happily and slowly gain in confidence.



Toddlers just need to get used to different equipment – the differences in size, texture, shape, weight and colour.

  • Roll up an old jumper, put it in a bag and tape securely.
  • Encourage your child to pat the ball with both hands, then either hand, poke it with individual fingers and pat very fast and slow, then hard and softly.
  • Squash the ball by lying, sitting and (with help) standing on it.
  • Hold your child under the arms and gently swing them through your legs to move the ball.
  • Hold up the ball and encourage your child to reach for it and follow it with their eyes as you move it from side to side and up and down.


This is the first ball skill to emerge in a young child.

  • Scrunch up some paper bags or roll up some socks or tights.
  • Start by throwing the home-made balls in the air and watch them drop – how high can you go?
  • Place a box on the floor, practise throwing underarm and overarm to get the balls into the box then slowly lengthen the distance you stand away from the container.
  • Throw the balls up the stairs, underarm and overarm. How far up can you go?


This is probably the most difficult ball skill for children to master so avoid demoralising your child if they struggle to learn.

  • If outside, use a large, soft ball; if inside, use a ‘jumper’ ball or socks/tights/paper bags.
  • Practise ‘tracking’ the ball by moving the ball from side to side and up and down, and ask your child to touch the ball quickly.
  • Roll the ball on the floor towards your child and ask them to stop it with their hands and push it back to you. Change the speed so they get used to the ball coming fast towards them.
  • Stand at opposite ends of a low table and roll the ball across the table top, stop the ball and roll it back.
  • Progress to throwing the ball into your child’s lap.
  • Finally, stand close together and practise passing the ball – then throwing it to each other.


Some children find this an easy skill to master, while others may need more time and practice as it requires good balance, co-ordination and strength to be performed competently.

  • Make a mini slalom course with cushions on the floor and dribble the ball around the obstacles.
  • Make a ‘goal’ and kick the ball into it – lengthen the distance away from the goal and aim.


Some children from a very young age will quite naturally bat objects around the floor; others may find it harder.

  • Make a bat from rolled up newspaper/magazine and tape securely.
  • Make balls from household objects, place them on the floor, and begin to bat them around. Bat softly then hard.
  • Make a ‘goal’ and bat the balls towards it, then lengthen the distance you stand away from it.

Published by Nursery World and available to subscribers in their extensive archive of past publications.