What do you reach for when you want to play with your child?
This summer, pick up the toy that “does it all” in terms of educating and entertaining your children. In an age when there are countless high-tech educational toys (i.e. iPad applications, computer programs) on the market, playing ball may seem prehistoric. However, there may be some benefit to “unplugging” from the technological word and engaging in a good ole game of catch. Listed below are suggested ways a ball may be used to enhance communication skills from birth through kindergarten and beyond. There is really no limit to the how this low-tech tool can be used, so please keep and open mind and remember to have a ball!
Infants: Balls are interesting objects that facilitate joint attention (shared eye gaze) between parent and child. Not only is rolling and bouncing the ball back and forth with your child beneficial for development of gross motor and coordination, but it reinforces the child’s eye contact with the parent and supports development of his or her social skills.
Toddlers: The back-and-forth interaction that you experience during catch is a wonderful way to teach your youngster conversational turn-taking and imitation. Children typically acquire labels rapidly, with action and describing words lagging behind. Using a ball, parents can teach their children action words (e.g., stop, go, throw, kick, roll, bounce) and descriptive words (e.g., fast, slow, colors, size) while having fun inside or outside. Parents can also help their children learn to make choices (e.g. “Roll or bounce?”).
Preschoolers: Parents may enhance listening comprehension and question formulation skills together through a modified game of catch. First, the parent holds the ball and asks the child “Do you want me to roll, bounce, or throw the ball?” The parent may then expand or rephrase the child’s response (e.g. “You want me to bounce!”) and narrate the action as it occurs (e.g. “Bounce, bounce!”). When the child has possession of the ball, the parent may assist the child in formulating a question. The parent then expresses a request (“I want you to throw it!”) and cheers for the child’s success with listening and following directions. Incorporate “Simon Says” into this activity to encourage careful listening and following directions.
Kindergartners and beyond: Learning the alphabet, letter-sound relationships, and phonological awareness skills are essential for literacy development. Enhance your child’s understanding of these concepts by stepping away from the paper and pencil and engaging in sound-it-out games. Tossing the ball back-and-forth with a parent while rehearsing the alphabet, identifying letters their sounds, and naming words in categories (i.e. foods, animals) that begin with that sound are fun and educational ways to sharpen pre-reading skills. Other great ways to make literacy include tossing a ball as you and your child practice rhyming words or bouncing the ball as you count the number of syllables (i.e. ‘beats’ in a word, such as Wash-ing-ton). Training your child’s auditory skills will promote greater success with reading and spelling.