How to Choose Age-Appropriate Balls for Children

These games, activities, and toys help children build motor skills

preschooler playing T-ball
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Get on a roll by stocking your toy box with the best balls for children. Appealing, age-appropriate toys and sports equipment motivate your child to play actively and move her muscles, and balls are at the top of that list. They can be used in so many different games, activities, and sports, in pairs, groups, or solo.

With balls of the right size, shape, and heft, children can master motor skills (like throwing, catching, kicking, and rolling). In turn, they build physical literacy and confidence. Plus, balls are inexpensive, colorful, and fun!

Balls for Babies and Toddlers

Little ones can build both small and large motor skills by exploring balls of different sizes and textures.

Help your baby roll a ball back and forth or drop a ball onto the floor to see if they bounce.

Make sure you're purchasing balls that are safe for kids under 3. Try:

  • Soft, plush balls
  • Balls with a bell inside (these teach cause and effect)
  • Textured rubber balls
  • Inflatable beach balls (balloons are a choking hazard)
  • Tennis balls
  • A ball pit (or make your own—buy a bunch 6- to 8-inch soft plastic balls, add to play yard or wading pool)

Balls for Preschoolers

Between ages 3 and 5, kids are beginning to master gross motor skills like kicking, throwing and catching. Large, lightweight balls are easier for them to manipulate. These kinds of balls will be less frustrating while young ones are learning. Many of them can be used indoors and out:

  • Inflatable beach balls
  • Rubber playground balls
  • Lightweight plastic baseball or softball (with "fat bat" and tee; pictured)
  • Foam balls
  • Mini basketball and hoop, soccer ball and net, and other scaled-down sports equipment

Balls for Grade-Schoolers

By age 6, your child may be ready to try some real sports equipment, with appropriate safety gear, such as shin guards for soccer and a batting helmet for baseball. Or stick with scaled-down, lighter-weight kids' versions for a little longer, if necessary.

Kids this age may enjoy playing ball games (from foursquare to kickball to badminton) with friends. Depending on your child's interests and space you have available, keep on hand:

  • Playground balls
  • Baseballs/softballs and mitts; you might even consider a kids' pitching machine
  • Soccer balls and a net (or improvise with traffic cones or cardboard boxes)
  • Basketballs and a hoop
  • Footballs
  • Tennis balls
  • Foam balls for indoor play (think Nerf)
  • Inflatable beach balls or balloons

Best Balls Middle Schoolers and Teens

By this time, your kids' preferences are probably clear, and you're tripping over their balls of choice. For fun family ball games (if you have space), consider:

  • Badminton or volleyball (you can use the same net)
  • Croquet
  • Blongo ball which is also called ladder golf
  • Table tennis
  • Basketball
  • Kickball—great for mixed-age groups, and very versatile
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