The importance of “Roll the Ball”

February 15, 2019

By Donna Ellison

You know that moment when something that has always seemed simple and ordinary suddenly reveals itself as more profound and important than you realized?  It can be an object, an activity, or a person. The thing begs to be taken for granted. Then, suddenly, you’ll never be able to look at it the same way again.  That shift in perception happened to me recently regarding the infant game ‘Roll the Ball’ that untold parents and caregivers have played with their infants over the ages.  I am still making discoveries about this basic game. 

I had my daughter crochet a ball, which I stuffed and sent to my seven-month-old grandniece for Christmas.  As I was talking to Jenna’s father on the phone later, I found myself wearing my teacher hat and telling him all kinds of stuff about child development.  I managed to get back into the Aunt Donna he knew as soon as I realized how pedagogical I sounded.  But the conversation had started me thinking about growth and development.  Soon I was looking at recent research I had been doing as well as thinking about my past work and training in education. Now I want to share the importance of just this one little game.  Let me share from the vantage of playing it with an eight-month-old child.  Let us call her Alice.

Alice is able to sit up quite well and hold things in her hands, such as her bottle.  She is sitting up now.  You say her name and offer her the ball.  She ignores the ball but gives you one of those wonderful baby smiles.  She waves her hands around in a way that indicates she expects you to pick her up for a cuddle.  Because you are a good parent, and you know the many emotional and physical health benefits of hugs, you pick her up and put her on your lap.  Then you offer her the ball once again.

This time she is able to focus on it.  She takes hold of the ball, puts it to her mouth, wobbles a bit and drops the ball.

Even though Alice is not yet playing ‘roll the ball’ the way she will soon, she has made progress.  She is using her core and big muscles in her arms.  That is necessary for balance, heart and lung health, and getting ready to develop the smaller muscles, such as her fingers.  Hand eye coordination is also developing.  Sy taking hold of the ball she is learning a great deal about the world outside of herself.

When Alice can use both hands to hold on to the ball, then let go of the ball so you can take it, she is showing even more development.  She was able to grasp your finger with her fingers, from birth.  But now she can use both palms and fingers in a deliberate action.  One she controls.  She is also able to indicate her readiness to accept the ball by reaching out for it. 

Consider another step in Alice’s abilities.  She will soon be able to learn about teasing from you and she will start to offer the ball to you, then jerk it back.  Further steps in her skill set will involve being able to pick up the ball and roll it back and forth to you from a sitting position on the floor. 

All this big muscle development before fine muscle development, hand-eye coordination, ability to focus, strengthening of core muscles are important for physical development.  They are all helped in becoming part of her skill set by playing this simple game.  But there is also emotional and social growth going on.

Because you have been playing with her, she is able to connect to other human beings better than before.  She has learned more about play.  She is getting the idea that play often involves routine.  She is learning about the world beyond her own body and her food source.  Taking turns at an activity is also part of her social growth. When she decides that she can affect the way the game is played, such as which ball to use or how far apart to sit from the other player, she is becoming empowered. When she learns negotiating skills such as working it out who should retrieve the ball when it rolls out of reach, she is truly developing in her socialization.  Cooperation, stress relief, personal warmth, human connection, and self confidence are also products of this simple game.  Other games you play with your child will also be beneficial.  Take them for granted, or see them in a new light, but be sure to gain the benefits of play.

About the author

Donna Ellison lives in Denver, CO and is a retired teacher, grandmother and avid reader of the CO4Kids blogs. 

Learn more

The early years of life – from birth to age eight – are very important for learning and development. That’s because during the first few years, children’s brains are developing fast. In fact, more than one million new brain connections form every second![1]Because of this, the experiences and relationships that young children have in the early years can impact them for life[2]

Visit on the Colorado Shines website to learn more about how to support healthy development at home.


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