‘Animal Ball’ Occupies Toddlers While Teaching Them Mechanics of Catching

Even better, they get to a make animal sounds through the whole game.

by Dave Baldwin

Perceptive readers will recognize ‘Animal Ball’ as the game Prince Tuesday uses in Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood to teach the kids how to catch a ball (Season 2/Episode 8, “Daniel Plays Ball”). Yes, the episode where they sing “Keep trying, you’ll get better!” when Little D expresses frustration and sadness for being born with hands made of stone. Miss Elaina actually created the game, and it’s little more than a simple catching activity with animal sounds thrown in to keep the kids laughing. Not only is it easy to play with two or more children ⏤ indoors or out, depending on your rules for inside sports ⏤ it’s one of the best activities for kids who have yet to learn the valuable skill of holding on to an incoming projectile.

Prep Time: None

Entertainment Time: 10-15 minutesEnergy Expended by Child: Moderate

What You Need:

  • A rubber ball.
  • Patience.

How to Play:

Circle the kids up a few feet apart from one another. Or, if you’re playing with just one child, line up opposite them a short distance away. Now explain the rules, which are simple. The child with the ball yells out, “A dog says… ruff ruff ruff!” and tosses the ball underhanded to anybody else in the circle. While the ball is in the air, the entire group barks like a dog until it’s caught. The next child then picks a different animal and does the same thing, “A cow says… moooooooo” and throws the ball as everybody ‘moos.’ The game proceeds until the kids exhaust either themselves or their knowledge of animal sounds. You can also let the child who catches the ball make the animal sound first, with the group quickly following their lead and letting out a chorus of ‘quacks,’ ‘meows,’ or ‘hee-haws.”

If any of the kids are just learning to catch a ball ⏤ or are having difficulty doing so ⏤ it’s important to stop the game to show them proper technique. First, keep the arms outstretched but close together (like train tracks) as the ball approaches. Second, don’t take your eye off the ball. Third, when it hits the arms, follow Prince Tuesday’s advice and use the ‘hug trick’ ⏤ just give it a big old hug. If players continue to struggle, move the circle closer together.

Wrap Up:

You have to give the writers of DT credit for this one ⏤ it’s hard to think of an easier (or more entertaining) way to teach a kid to catch a ball. My daughter is actually obsessed with animal sounds anyway ⏤ they’re her number request of Google Home (“Hey Google, what sound does a giraffe make?” during dinner) ⏤ so incorporating them into catching has been fun. She still hasn’t nailed catching completely, but she also hasn’t melted down in anger like Daniel yet. If/when she does, though, I’ll be ready with a ‘quack, quack’ and “Keep trying, you’ll get better!”