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The development of your child’s ball skills includes him getting the hang of a variety of different abilities such as bouncing, catching, throwing, kicking and hitting a ball with a bat.

These ball skills are influenced by your little athlete’s muscle tone, gross motor co-ordination, sense of balance, ability to cross the midline, bilateral integration, eye movement, visual perception and hand function. These skills are developed in a specific sequence as your child’s abilities improve with age. Here is an outline of that sequence and what you can expect at each stage.

0 to 1 years old

During your baby’s first year, the very first step will be for him to try picking up a ball using both hands. By the end of the year, he will also start dropping the ball or handing it to you.

1 to 2 years old

Between the ages of one and two years old, your little one will start rolling and throwing a ball. He will most likely still struggle to do this in a specific direction, but towards the end of the year, he’ll be able to throw the ball forward without losing his balance. You’ll also catch him walking to the ball, lifting a foot and kicking in its direction.

2 to 3 years old

By two years old, your toddler will start catching a big ball (about 20cm in diameter) against his body. Be patient as he will still miss the catch quite often, but persist in ball games as this year sees a lot of rewarding improvement. By the end of the year, your child will be able to throw a ball overarm in a controlled way (even if he often misses the intended target) as well as run, stop and kick a ball with force, and without falling.

3 to 4 years old

By age three, the fun really starts. During this year your child’s ball skills improve to such an extent that they can catch and throw a tennis ball, throw a ball underarm, start batting and even catch a bouncing ball (if it isn’t too small).

4 to 5 years old

Get ready for some activity. Between the ages of four and five  your child can run and kick a ball as well as catch a ball bouncing directly towards him. It is completely normal for children to catch the ball against their bodies. By the end of the year, you will also see him hit a target when throwing the ball overarm.

5 years and older

At five years old, your child can bounce a ball with two hands and, as his ball skills improve, he will get the hang of doing this with just one hand. His catching skills will also improve making it possible for him to catch a ball with his hands, and without using his body, by the end of the year. He’ll also delight in kicking balls into the air.

Find more activities to help develop your child’s gross motor skills.

Tips for parents

There are a few things to keep in mind while helping your star athlete develop his ball skills.

  • Always be sure to start at an achievable level and slowly increase the degree of difficulty with each exercise.
  • Give lots of praise and encouragement.
  • Let your child play with a variety of balls with different shapes and sizes such as soccer, rugby, tennis, beach and golf balls.

Degrees of difficulty

Do you want to make the ball games a little easier or more difficult? Here are some pointers:

  • It’s always easier to catch, throw or hit a bigger ball, such as a soccer ball, rather than a tennis ball.
  • It’s easier to catch, throw or hit a lighter ball, such as a beach ball, rather than a soccer ball.
  • The closer you stand to your child, the easier it is for him to catch or hit a ball.
  • Throwing a ball directly towards your child makes it easier for him to respond than when the ball is being thrown from above or either side.
  • The harder you throw, the more difficult it will be for your little one to respond.
  • It is easier to catch a ball with two hands.
  • It is easier to catch a ball while standing still rather than walking or running.

Susanne Hugo, Mysmartkid occupational therapist.