Some of My Favorite Activities

Occupational therapists use a wide variety of play activities to build motor and sensory processing skills.  One of my favorites, especially during warm weather months, is ball play.

Throwing, catching, kicking and/or hitting balls can appear seamless for some children, even though they involve complex body movements.  These activities involve coordinating both sides of the body, being able to track the ball visually, timing when to bring arms and hands together, judging the speed of the ball and, when playing with another person, being able to read and interpret what the other person is going to do, and then adjust accordingly.  It’s no wonder that ball play can be challenging for many children. 

There are several ways to help your child learn these skills in a fun, supportive way.  These include:

·         Using large beach balls or blown-up punch balloons.  These are slower, easier to track visually, and don’t hurt if they happen to hit your nose.
·         Use a toy such as a Zoom Ball.  This is a ball attached to two ropes with two handles on each end, the players take turns opening and closing their arms to make the ball go back and forth.
·         Tie string between the holes of a small whiffle ball or other lightweight ball that has holes in it and suspend it from the ceiling at chest height.  Your child can hit it with HIS hands or, if you’re brave and he’s coordinated, a baseball bat.
·         If your child is having difficulty catching, try rolling the ball back and forth between the two of you, then throw from a very short distance, then increase the distance little by little…
·         Begin with larger, softer balls, gradually progressing to smaller ones.

Of course, the vast majority of kids will not grow up to play for the San Francisco Giants.  But there are other reasons for helping them develop their skills in this area.  Ball play helps build strength, endurance, coordination, and spatial awareness which are needed for activities such as handwriting, as well as for visual motor skills which are important to later pre-academic and academic learning. 

Equally important, they build social skills.  Children who are able to catch and throw may be more likely to respond with a “yes” when a peer asks them to play.  They may be more likely to join in playing on the playground, at the park, or at recess.  They may be are more willing to be part of a group or a team, and to feel that they belong. 

Going through the process of learning a challenging skill such as ball play, sticking with it, and practicing enough to develop that skill, teaches resilience and problem solving while building inner confidence that comes from effort, perseverance and mastery. 

All that from a whiffle ball and some string?  Absolutely.  The games we play as children help to lay the foundation for how we experience the world, our relationships with others, and our beliefs about who we are.  Games are important.

Play ball!  


Moira Sullivan

Moira uses a holistic approach that promotes healthy development in the child while honoring and supporting their relationship with their family and the community. A graduate of San Jose State University, she has advanced training in sensory integration, visual perception and visual-motor integration, DIR Floortime, oral motor rehabilitation, strength and endurance training, and myofascial release.