Pediatric physical therapists and occupational therapists often work with young children on play skills to prepare them for school and sports. Between when a baby first learns to sit on his own and when he starts preschool, many gross motor skills are developing. The ability to catch, throw, and kick a ball often reflect how well a child can balance his body in space, interact with his environment, and coordinate opposing sides of his body. As a prelude to specialized sports, ball skills are especially important for children to master. The questions parents frequently ask me are often related to the development of those ball skills.
When should my child be able to catch a ball?
Catching a ball takes on different qualities when it comes to development. A one-year- old child should be able to catch a ball while sitting down by enclosing the ball with arms and hands, without falling or losing his balance.
- By age 2, a child is able to stand and hold his arms in front of his body, with palms up in a receiving position in anticipation. He should attempt to secure a ball thrown from 5ft away by bringing hands to chest.
- By age 3, he should be able to catch a ball thrown from 5ft away with hands only, with arms outstretched, without the need to bring his hands to his chest. At four and a half, a child is able to catch a tennis ball from 5ft away using his hands only, with arms bent at 45 degrees, at least 2 out of 3 times.
- By age 6, a child can bounce a tennis ball on the floor and catch it with 1 hand.
How should my child throw a ball at different ages?
- At 12 months, a baby can roll a ball forward on the floor at least 3ft using his hands. He can also stand and throw a ball in any direction by extending his arm at shoulder or elbow.
- By 18 months, a child should be able to stand and throw a ball without falling.
- By 2 years, a child will be able to throw a tennis ball forward at least 3ft using an overhand and underhand technique. By two and a half, that distance doubles.
- By three and a half, a child will be able to throw a tennis ball forward 10ft in the air and use appropriate technique, such as moving arms up and back using upper trunk rotation, with arms and legs moving in opposition. He can also hit a 2ft target from 5ft away with a tennis ball using underhand toss.
- By four and a half, a child can throw a tennis ball underhandedly at least 10ft using trunk rotation and opposing arm/leg movements. He can also hit a target from 12ft away 2 out of 3 trials using an overhand toss.
When should my child be able to kick a ball?
- At a year and a half, a child will have the balance and coordination to stand, lift his foot, and contact a ball. By 20 months, he can kick a stationary ball forward 3ft. By 2 years, he would be able to do this without the ball deviating more than 20 degrees to either side of midline, suggesting good control of his body and limbs.
- A 3-year-old can kick a ball forward 6ft using opposing arm and leg movements. He should be able to initiate the kick by bringing his foot backwards with knee bent.
- By 6 years, a child has the balance, coordination, and strength to kick the ball forward and up in the air at least 12ft, using proper technique.
Okay. So that’s what my child should be doing. How do I help him achieve these developmental milestones?
It is so important to start at a level that your child can achieve and then gradually increase the difficulty. Children respond well to success and praise, and they are more willing to try challenging tasks as they build up their confidence. Break down each task step by step. For example, if kicking a ball is hard or if his technique is off, have your child practice standing on one foot first or kick a balloon instead. If throwing underhandedly is tough, break down the different position of his arms and legs during each point of the motion. Achieving developmental milestones is a matter of practice, timing, cognitive maturation, and understanding the parts of each task.
Look for an upcoming blog about specialized sports for children. If you continue to have questions or concerns about your child’s coordination, development, and ball skills, come in and talk to one of our specialists!