Try these fun tips for teaching kids how to catch a ball!
If you have ever watched a toddler try desperately to toss a ball into the air and catch it, you know that it can be a frustrating phase of development. Then, that one day, when they finally figure it out, their smile will be priceless and the photo opportunity can’t be missed.
As toddlers grow into preschoolers, their hand-eye coordination improves along with their reflexes and ball skills gradually progress from roll and trap to toss and catch.
It all begins with babies and the game of cause and effect. They will giggle as the ball rolls towards them, they will bat at it and then laugh as it gets away from them. You can entertain a baby as young as 4-6 months with hours of rolling and trapping.
You will likely see a child attempt their first throw around the age of 12-18 months. Between the ages of 3 and 4, you will see the skill of catching emerge — first as an awkward hug to the chest and then, gradually, to a winning catch with just their hands.
Don’t be too excited about their potential NFL or MBL recruitment yet. Catching and throwing on the move come much later with some major whole body coordination and strength.
Here is a visual timeline with ages based on the Peabody Developmental Motor Scales, a pediatric assessment that therapists often use as a norm-referenced tool to determine if a child is functioning below the level of peers in areas of development.
Developmental Timeline for Catching a Ball
Stands with arms in front of the body, palms up to attempt to secure a ball tossed from 5 feet by bringing hands in toward the chest.
Catches a ball tossed from 5 feet with only hands and without the motion of bringing hands toward the chest.
Catches a tennis ball from 5 feet using only hands
Bounces a tennis ball on the floor and catches it with one hand.
Developmental Timeline for Throwing a Ball
Rolls a ball forward on the floor at least 3 feet using hands as well as stand and throw a ball in any direction by extending arm at shoulder or elbow.
Stands and throws a ball without falling.
Throws a tennis ball forward at least 3 feet using an overhand and underhand pattern.
Throws a tennis ball forward 10 feet and will use arm and leg opposition (step with left foot, throw with right arm or vice versa). At this age, accuracy is also improving and a child can hit a 2 foot target from 5 feet away with a tennis ball using an underhand toss.
Throws a tennis ball using an underhand pattern at least 10 feet using trunk rotation and opposing arm/leg movements and hit a target from 12 feet.
Regardless of where a child might be on this timeline of “normal” all children develop at their own pace and benefit from practice.
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Ball Options for Kids
Think about the type of ball you are using with a child. For a child new to throwing and catching items like yarn balls and beanbags are great options because they are easy to hold and fun to catch! Balloons and beach balls are good tools for a child who is struggling with hand eye coordination as they move slower through the air and give a child more time to react. Koosh balls are just plain fun to touch, toss and catch!
Fortunately, balls are fun so getting a child to practice isn’t usually difficult, especially when you have an arsenal of fun games in your back pocket.
Check out these recommendations for fun balls for kids!
Activities for Teaching Kids How to Catch a Ball & Throw
Scarves also give ample time for the hands and eyes to coordinate to work on catching. Have kids toss colorful scarves up in the air and catch with one or two hands. They can also practice tossing between partners or playing a game in which a bunch of scarves are tossed up at once and the child tries to catch the color scarf that is called out by a leader.
Velcro Toss and Catch
These “sticky” paddles make practice fun and have the added benefit of hand strengthening and midline crossing work when kids try to pull the ball off once they catch it!
Plastic Bag Toss
A cost effective tool for teaching kids to toss and catch, plastic bags float through the air and allow reaction time. Have kids try the following:
-Toss your bag up with your (right) hand. Can you catch it with that hand?
-Toss your bag up with your (other) hand. Can you catch it with that hand?
-Can you toss the bag up with one hand and catch it in the other?
-How many times can you toss and catch it up without letting it touch the floor?Can you toss your bag up high, run under it, and then catch it?
-Can you toss your bag up high, spin around, and then catch it before it hits the ground?
-Can you toss your bag to a friend, who catches it and tosses it back to you?
These scoops are a favorite tool in my therapy bag for working on catching. For the game of Ice Cream (from PE Central), you will need scoops and an object to catch (ball, beanbag, etc). A single scoop of ice cream is a simple toss and catch. A Double Scoop is a toss and catch with a friend. If these are too easy, try a Banana split. For this variation, the scoop is turned sideways for a game of toss and catch. Kids can also try the Ice Cream Twist where they toss the ball up and spin 360* before catching it in their scoop.
Beanbag Target Toss
Grab a stack of colorful beanbags and have kids work on throwing under or overhand to hit same color targets made of chalk, hula hoops or pieces of paper.
Laundry Basket Basketball
Empty out your laundry basket and use it as a moving target for this fun game. Have a friend hold the basket while you try to throw rolled socks into it from different distances. Encourage the friend to make it challenging by moving the basket high and low and side to side. Once you have finished throwing the sock balls, have the friend with the basket toss them up in the air, all at once, and see how many you can catch. Switch positions.
Tic Tac Toe Toss
Create a tic tac toe board with tape or chalk on the ground. Place a mark 5 feet behind the board and encourage kids to use an underhand toss with a beanbag or rock to try to hit a spot on the board. If you miss, you have to wait until your next turn to try again. The first to get 3 in a row on target wins!
Stomp and Catch:
I love this awesome tool for working on catching solo!