Baby ball toys are deceptively simple. They seem like passive objects that are just kicked, thrown, hit, and rolled around (to kids’ great delight), but in fact, balls are key developmental toys that are engaging precisely because they’re so basic. Not only are they clutch toys to use outdoors, but they also teach infants and toddlers foundational skills they’ll need to master as they head to preschool and kindergarten.
“Simple ball play, when we hold a ball and move it in front of a baby’s field of vision, or roll it slowly along the floor where baby can watch, gives little ones a chance to fine-tune their visual tracking skills in the early months of life,” says Rebecca Parlakian, the senior director of programs at the early childhood research and advocacy nonprofit Zero to Three. “Visual tracking is the ability to follow a person or object with our eyes as it moves across our visual field.”
Using balls sized for little hands helps babies develop their fine motor skills, while also providing a sensory learning experience. “They learn that balls can roll, they can be grasped, they can be dropped, squeezed, or thrown. This is an important cognitive process in learning how the objects in their world work,” says Parlakian.
And ball play helps toddlers with hand-eye coordination and teaches them about timing (as they figure out when to throw or catch something), collaborative play (when kicking a ball back and forth with parents), and force (when they see how much harder they need to kick a soccer ball than a beach ball).
When choosing balls for babies, make sure they’re big enough to be held, but never small enough to be choking hazard. “I recommend choosing a variety of balls of different sizes and different textures: Fabric, bumpy, smooth, to babies a chance to explore the sensory aspects of different balls. Make sure that they can be mouthed, because this is an important way that babies play and explore an object,” says Parlakian.
For toddlers, go big, parent. You want ones sizable enough to be kicked or thrown with abandon.
The Best Baby Ball Toys
Made of organic cotton, this ball toy is made up of thick fabric chunks that are easy for babies to grab, and does double duty as a teething toy. Bonus: It's machine-washable.
This soft fabric ball makes a noise when babies roll it, thus teaching them about cause and effect. And its many textures and colors provide for an enriching sensory play experience.
With its 32 openings, this ball is easy for babies to grasp and move around.
With its multiple textures, shapes, and colors, this set of ball toys helps older babies and toddlers have a tactile play experience.
A ball toy that doubles as a teether, this one promotes clutching and two-handed play, and makes a rattling noise when kids throw it around.
The Best Toddler Ball Toys
This handy hoop teaches toddlers about gravity and motion, and the amount of force they need to exert to score three-pointers.
A pounding toy that also schools toddlers about cause and effect, this classic let them use a hammer to get the balls through the built-in holes and see them roll down ramps. Which is also a nice lesson about gravity.
A classic, lightweight, colorful rubber ball that kids can kick and throw and roll around.
Kicking a soccer ball is one of the most basic foundations of outdoor play; it helps kids learn about force and momentum and encourages group play.
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