rolling a ball

October 23, 2009

Ball Play & Exploration

Another classic open-ended material that Whitney loves to explore is balls – - or really anything that rolls. We have all seen our babies fascinated by touching a ball and it taking off to the other side of the room—just batting at them creates dramatic effects (see video at or Once Whitney could better control her hand movement and ability to grasp and manipulate a ball, she explored bouncing it and making noises with it  ( Once toddling she began to toss it and pronounce “ball” ( and eventually she started kicking and throwing.

Again while our babies are mastering the world of balls there is lots happening in their learning and development:

During infancy, babies love just batting balls like they bat at blocks except now there is a big difference in what effects their actions have. Unlike a cube that slides when pushed, a ball rolls.  It moves in a continuous motion for a greater distance, often seeming to be magically alive! The dynamics of moving balls, once learned, will help your child make better predictions of effects and learn the physics of form. The ball also provides unparalleled opportunities for forming a social bond between two people who sit at a distance but feel connected by rolling a ball back and forth.  The distance confirms their separateness; the exchange of rolling confirms their togetherness.  And their turn taking is a precursor to the rules of dialogue and game playing and the concepts of inter-connectedness and fairness.

As toddlers get more sophisticated with their ball explorations they discover that any object can be dropped, but only balls can bounce and roll. The focus for your toddler will most likely be the motion of the ball. A ball gradually rolls to a stop, at first lively, then motionless.  The child eventually learns that some motions are autonomous (a pet hamster) and other motions are indirect (caused by an external action such as a push or toss).  They learn that balls on ramps do not need to be pushed, only released, yet are not alive, and don’t go around obstacles.  By playing with balls and ramps, children learn the subtle differences between the living and the physical worlds.

By two years old, your child will eventually learn the structure of action, that more tilt of a ramp means faster ball speed down (a direct functional relation- MORE tilt yields MORE speed) or inverse relation- more tilt means less distance needed up the ramp to get the ball moving quickly.  Your child will also learn to read space as a symbol of what has not yet happened, but will.  A long drop from a high position means the ball will bounce high.

So take advantage of all this rich exploration ball play affords. Watch for cues from your child that invite you to play. See what ball-action delights your child– the roll across the floor, the drop off the edge of a table, the movement only one way down an incline—and repeat that action yourself. Your response can be slightly slower and more deliberate to emphasize the cause and the effect.  After the play proceeds a few rounds, make a slight variation to see if your child picks up on new variations you can introduce, such as tilting the ramp less to make the ball roll more slowly or making a gap between planks to make the ball drop through. Balls and ramps provide children with a natural laboratory for science and physics – cause and effect, conditional causes, and how to increase or diminish an effect. Be their scientific assistant that helps create and reflect upon the causes and results of their experimentation. To see a host of ideas, eebee’s adventures has a great ball play adventure in its Exploring Real Stuff DVD currently available in stores like giggle or at