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throw and catch - motor planning To throw and catch a ball may seem like such a basic skill, but for a child with motor isms, it may seem more challenging than going for an Olympic gold medal!

It is amazing the amount of skills involved that are typically taken for granted.  For instance:

Motivation – interest in the ball and playing a reciprocal game

Attention – ability to keep focus

Coordination -knowing what to do as well as getting the body to cooperate with the mind

Experience – the willingness to keep trying and keep practicing

See?  Not simple for a child who has significant developmental differences!

Once a child is showing beginning signs of being able to attend and physically hold and/or throw things, throw and catch can be a worthwhile activity to encourage even if extra care and adaptions are necessary.  Playing throw and catch can help a child develop confidence, attention skills, body control, motor planning skills, social awareness, and coordination. Throw and catch is a game that can be varied and expanded upon in limitless ways. It is age appropriate for all individuals and just as beneficial for older kids as the wee ones.

Tips to Get the Ball Tossing

Simplify for Success 

Make it easier for the child to be successful.  Minimize distractions. A quiet, sparse room is ideal.  Have the child stand on a low step stool to help him focus, if necessary.  A non-slip mat or taped X on the floor can work for some children as they develope more spatial and body awareness.

Learn to Throw – Break Into Steps and Model

Break it down to whatever is do-able.  Throwing might come easier than catching at first. Catching can be more intimidating. If so, just start with throwing.

Take turns throwing bean bags or popcorn balls into a large tub or some other easy target.

Announce clearly, “Mom’s turn! THROW to the bucket!” Then, enthusiastically, tell the child to do it.

Gesture, show a picture, and say, “[Child’s name]’s turn! THROW!”

Learn to Catch – Build Upon the Steps

Once the child can throw, you can build up to holding the tub or putting yourself where the tub was and clearly say, “Now throw to ME!”

Then run and hand the ball back before moving on to working on catching.  Work on one step at a time and build gradually.

To teach catching, first demonstrate how to get your hands ready.  Next, start by handing or lightly tossing the ball from a short distance.

Go for 3 catches, then 5, then 10.  Work up as the child seems ready.

Patience is a Virtue

Wait. Extra patience is extremely important. Give the child time to process the requested action.  If the child’s focus drifts off or the ball is just dropped, excitedly but gently re-guide the child back to the activity.

“WOOPS!  You dropped it!  Here, try again, THROOOW!” Retrieve the ball and make visual gestures to cue the child such as a throwing motion or pointing to the target.

Positive Persistence with Learning to Throw and Catch 

Encourage and celebrate regardless of success.  Believe in the child.  Smile!

Notice, did he take the ball from you?  YES!

Did she throw it the wrong way?  AWESOME, that was a GREAT TRY!

Make it fun to try something challenging and new as well as fun just playing with you.  Adding stress and pushing the child doesn’t help when things are hard.  Inspiring children can have amazing results because it is much more motivating and fun.

Feel good about yourself without needing anything from the child. Remember, you are trying too!  Feel good about your intentions without needing the child’s response to make you feel successful.  Don’t be discouraged by “failure” because you just never know when things might start to click.  Positive persistence is the antidote to failure.

Experiment with Different Balls

Experiment with your approach and pay attention to the child’s response. Go with whatever seems easiest for her. For example, try different balls or other throwing objects such as bean bags, balls of different sizes, balloons, etc.

Balloons move more slowly and have less impact since they float.  This can be a good way to start working on catching skills.

A light weight ball that is not too large for the individual to easily manipulate is best when starting out.

Sensory balls with bells, knobs, or pictures on them may be too distracting for some children.  Often plain and basic are best.

If the child is showing no interest, let it go for now – but certainly not forever!  It is important to keep hoping, trying, and believing that the child can and will develop this new skill. It is a process after all and it  need not be drudgery. Familiarity can sometimes be the magic key.  Enthusiastically try again in the near future. Some goals and dreams are worth striving for simply because that is what life is all about, learning and growing together.

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Tara McClintick is an Early Childhood Special Education teacher turned Son-Rise® mom. She is the mother of two amazing boys, the youngest one considered on the severe end of the autism spectrum. She creates fun, visually based concept books designed to promote awareness, thinking, interaction and language development that can be found at