27 Jan, 2014

Positive Relationships: Home Learning – On the Ball

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

Simple equipment and activities are all it takes to develop children’s ball skills.


Ball skills open up a world of sport and activities that are enjoyable and life-enhancing for all children. Too often concerns about space and safety, storage and finance deny children the opportunities to practise, both at home and in the nursery. But all these perceived difficulties can be overcome by using simple equipment such as balls made from rolled-up socks!


When advising parents on ball-skills activities or planning them in your nursery, remember:

  • Not all children will be interested or confident in engaging with ball-skill activities but a child will join in if the activities are accessible.
  • Try not to be overly pushy about when children gain ball skills.
  • Involve the children in planning the activities, such as rolling up jumpers, and join in when possible.
  • Make activities fun and practise little and often – ten to 15 minutes will probably be long enough.
  • Only introduce full-size sports equipment when you are sure children are confident and ready to use it properly.


Try the activities suggested opposite and below with individual or small groups of children in your setting.


Generally, under-twos need to concentrate on the eye-tracking, co-ordination and manipulative skills needed for more mature ball skills.

  • Throw feathers or half-blown-up balloons in the air and watch as they fall to the ground (challenges eye tracking and focus skills).
  • Move a balloon from side to side and up and down, encourage the children to reach and pat the balloon and progress to letting the balloon go when it is touched (encourages essential eye skills and later batting skills).
  • Make a ball from a rolled-up jumper and tape securely. Roll it towards the child to stop with both hands and push it back (encourages familiarity with stopping a moving object).
  • Stand at opposite ends of a low table and roll the ball towards the child at eye level for them to push back. (This lowers anxiety about an object coming towards them at speed – start slowly and explain carefully what you are doing.)

Two- to five-year-olds


This skill emerges at an early age and in the following order: one hand over and down/two handed underhand/one handed underhand/one handed overhand.

  • Throw balls in the air and watch them drop (needs eye-tracking skills, hand-eye co-ordination and timing).
  • Place a box on the floor as a ‘goal’ and raise it higher as the child becomes more confident and competent at aiming (challenges eye-tracking, balance, coordination and timing skills).
  • Use empty water bottles as skittles. Lengthen the distance children stand from the bottles and specify the type of throw.


This is probably the most challenging skill. Splitting this skill into two components – eye-tracking and stopping a moving object – allows a child to acquire this skill at a time that is right for them.

  • While sitting, ask the child to touch your hand (or jumper ball) as you move it quickly from side to side and up and down (encourages eye-tracking skills, timing and eye-hand co-ordination).
  • Roll the jumper ball to each child for them to roll it back. Do it faster as they become more confident (stopping a moving object requires good timing and eye-hand coordination skills).
  • Spin an empty water bottle and ask the child to stop it with both hands, then one hand only (encourages timing and co-ordination skills).
  • Make balls from socks/tights/paper bags. Practise throwing them high and attempt to catch them (challenges eye-tracking and co-ordination skills).


Some children will find this an easy skill to master but it requires a significant level of strength, co-ordination and balance to perform well. Dribbling balls around obstacles using both feet requires balance, strength and eye-foot co-ordination, while ‘scoring’ goals requires aiming skills, co-ordination, balance and strength.


Letting a child bat objects with their hands helps to develop their proprioceptive sense, eye-hand co-ordination, balance and strength.

  • Challenge the children to keep half-blown-up balloons in the air by batting them with their hands.
  • Use bats made of rolled-up newspaper to keep the balloons in the air – confident children may bat underhand and overhand.

Dr Lala Manners is a director of Activematters, which offers specialist training in physical development for all those working with young children in whatever capacity and in all settings.

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