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 balls for toddlers also teach kids the 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 washable soft ball has eight different sections, all with various textures and colors, encouraging babies to grab, pull, yank, and throw.
We dig this set of six balls because they're made from sustainable and non-toxic rubberwood, so kids can gum them to their heart's desire. The textures and shapes are all engaging and interesting.
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
The gold standard of miniature ball pits: This one is a zippered turtle that houses 60 plastic balls that are multi-colored. The bottom is non-skid. And this thing zips up when your kid is done playing and becomes a pillow. In other words, it's perfect.
One of our favorite ball toys from a wonderful brand: Kids knock the balls through the holes, and hear music when the ball hits the xylophone. A perfect blend of cause and effect learning, coupled with a motor skills workout.
The goal: Use the soft ball to knock down those bowling pins. All while working on their aim and concentration.
This beloved set is height-adjustable, going from 2.5 to four feet. It gives your toddler a solid workout, while also working their gross motor skills. And teaching them to sink a three pointer.
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.
Discerning toddlers use the magnetic stick to control the players, and then shoots the ball into the opposing goal. It's a fun, collaborative game that also lets kids work on their gross motor skills.
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