Sports are a fantastic way to teach children a variety of things. It gets their bodies moving, challenging a variety of gross- and fine-motor skills, as well as hand-eye-coordination. The small inconsequential failures teach them perseverance and emotional control. Socially, they will bond with other players, especially family members. They have to communicate and will learn to do so in an acceptable way. For little ones it can also be an imaginative/creative activity as they play make-believe.
However, the rules of sports are confusing, even for adults. Keeping score is great for competitive older children, but younger ones are less likely to understand it. The motor-skills required to hit a ball with a bat, or cradle a lacrosse stick are also likely beyond their depth.
As mentioned in our last blog, one of the easiest ways is to simply provide the equipment and let your little one explore. Stand by to help, demonstrate, and encourage their successes.
Even if you don’t have a garage full of equipment, there are household objects that can be used to introduce your little ones to your favorite game.
- broom sticks and pool noodles as hockey sticks
- hanging a bed sheet to use as a goal, or a large cardboard box
- tape or string as a volleyball net
- laundry baskets and cardboard boxes as basketball nets
- for sports with larger balls, a balloon can make an entertaining substitute
Every sport can be adapted, too. It takes a little creativity, and a good understanding of the children playing, but introducing your little one to your family’s favorite sport is easy! Here are some ideas:
Don’t worry about the score. Use a goal or a bed sheet and practice seeing how far back they can kick the ball and still make it in. Show them how to kick and run, then let them try. If they find that too easy, you can stand and pass the ball, then try slowly running. Dribble the ball and let them try to get it from you.
Use a balloon or a ball and practice crouching down and taking off. See how far they can throw it. Use string or tape (or even spray paint) in the grass as a goal line and celebrate dramatically. Stand and have them run toward you to try to get around you. Have fun!—but leave the tackling/tagging to the grown-ups so no one gets hurt.
If you have a T or a softball, practicing the hand-eye coordination required to hit the ball is a great start. However, that can be extremely difficult for some children. Instead, lay things down in the yard, (stuffed animals, bean bags, paper/plastic plates, etc.) and have them throw a ball from home plate and run the bases. Cheer. Take turns. Get that energy out.
Hockey is a great one because you can practice regardless of equipment. You can use a broomstick and a balloon, a pool noodle and a soccer ball, all they need is a sturdy stick of some kind and something to hit. Otherwise, practice with them the same way you would with soccer.
This is one that can easily be played inside on a rainy day. Use string or tape to make a line at your child’s eye-height in a hallway, blow up a balloon and let them try throwing or hitting the “ball” over the line. If you have a proper ball, take it outside, use string between some trees, or even tables/chairs, and let the child practice throwing it over the line. If they get good enough, you can stand on the other side and let them practice catching or setting, though we would not recommend using a heavy ball with young children. The light cheap ones are better, and a balloon is perfect.
Another in-door one! Set a cardboard box or a laundry basket on a table or the back of the couch. Let them practice making baskets, increasing the height for added challenge if needed. Show them how to dribble and let them figure it out in their own way. Practice bouncing the ball back and forth, and throwing from the chest. You can also dribble and let them chase you. If you have multiple children, you can have one defend the basket while the other tries, and take turns.
Most importantly HAVE FUN! Encourage, don’t criticize. Let the children show you what they are capable of!
Ms. Ashley and Ms. Bri