How To Teach A Toddler To Catch

Dog and Baby Catch

Today’s post is a fun one, as I want to share how I taught my baby girl how to catch a ball at 16 months old.

I want to make it clear that this post is just for fun, and teaching your toddler to catch a ball at a young age does not guarantee them an MLB contract in the future 🙂

And another disclaimer: like any activity, all toddlers develop skills at different ages (no matter how much work you put into it).  Your little one may start catching earlier or much later than 16 months – either way, don’t get discouraged or have any expectations — just have fun with it!

Let’s get into how to teach a toddler to catch a ball…

What Skills Are Needed To Catch A Ball?

When trying to teach a toddler any activity, it’s essential to know what skills are involved, so you can make sure that they’ve developed those skills beforehand.

Catching a ball requires hand-eye coordination, and some good hand and finger control and strength to close on the ball.

As a baby/toddler, there are several different activities we can do to work on hand-eye coordination and finger/hand control and strength.

How To Develop Hand-Eye Coordination In Babies and Toddlers

Pretty much everything babies are doing involving their hands will help develop hand-eye coordination.

It’s essential to give them access to a variety of different toys and activities throughout their first year of life. 

Try to find age-appropriate toys and activities that were designed to help your little one with fine motor skills.

On top of toys and activities, practical life skills such as drinking water from an open cup and learning to eat with a spoon or fork are excellent for hand-eye coordination.

Baby Drinking Open Cup

I can’t remember the exact month we started K with open cup drinking, but it was around 9 months old. 

Picking up a tiny glass and bringing it to your mouth to drink requires excellent coordination for a little one.

Lastly, you can introduce catching a ball by rolling it back and forth with your toddler. 

We started doing this with K as soon as she could sit up on her own.

My wife and I rolled the ball back and forth to each other to demonstrate the concept of playing catch and then included her in on the action.

Many times it ended up with me rolling it between her legs, and her just looking at it 🙂 but eventually, she started picking it up and attempting to throw it back to me.

Eventually, she got better at picking up balls and throwing them, which is a big step towards catching.

How To Develop Hand Control and Strength

To be able to close their hands on a ball, babies and toddlers need good hand and finger control and strength.

Similar to developing hand-eye coordination, hand and finger strength and control are developed through playing with various toys and activities from a very young age.

Ensuring you have a variety of activities in your playroom that promote different movements and fine motor skills is essential.

Montessori Toy Shelf

We started to introduce bigger and heavy activities as K got older and developed hand strength and control.

It may seem over-the-top to think about introducing bigger and heavier toys for a baby, but, like anyone, they need to be challenged to promote growth (and they enjoy the challenges)!

For example, we had a small ring stacker toy that K loved and mastered.  I noticed she still loved playing with it, but it wasn’t very challenging for her anymore. So we purchased a bigger and heavier stacker toy.

This bigger toy required two hands for the bigger bottom pieces and was a completely new challenge for her.  It ended up being her favorite activity for a long time.

Practical life activities are also great for hand control and strength.  

Drinking from an open cup, eating with spoons and forks, and helping with various activities around the house will all help with hand control and strength.

Outdoor play is another big one. 

K loves collecting rocks in a bucket and trying to carry the heavy bucket around to find more rocks.  She also loves picking up balls we have in the backyard and throwing them around outdoors.

Hand-eye coordination and hand control and strength almost go hand in hand.  As long as you are doing a lot of different activities with your little one they should be developing both every day!

The Steps To Teach A Toddler How To Catch

  1. Develop hand-eye coordination, hand control, and hand strength through play
  2. Introduce rolling a ball to the baby when they can sit on their own
  3. Demonstrate and model playing catch
  4. When they are stable on their feet and walking, ask them if they want to play catch and start by throwing the ball to their hands from a very close distance
  5. Don’t be discouraged if (when) they don’t move their hands to catch yet, it takes time!

My Big Catching Tip

K picked up catching the ball when I showed her how to put her hands together out in front of her and I used the cue “Put your hands together”.  

This put her hands and arms in a good position to try and catch the ball by trapping it against her body.

Once they learn how to catch it by trapping it against their body it will most likely help them gain better hand-eye coordination and then will eventually start catching the ball with their hands.

Trapping the ball against their body will be much easier for them, and will help them gain confidence and enjoy playing catch.

Recap For Teaching A Toddler How To Catch

If you want to teach a baby to catch a ball I think it all comes down to just exposing them to a variety of activities through their first few years of life.

With a variety of play, they will develop coordination, control, and strength that will eventually lead them to be able to catch a ball.

If your toddler doesn’t seem interested in playing catch or throwing a ball do not force it. It will come naturally, especially if they are exposed to watching you play catch or other kids playing catch.

Simply provide a prepared environment for your child to play and they will learn to catch on their own time!

Common Questions About Teaching Catch

When should a toddler be able to catch a ball?

From what I’ve gathered, toddlers should be able to catch a ball sometime between 2-3 years old. They may be able to start catching a ball as early as 1 year old, but it is normal if they aren’t catching until 3 years old.

How do I teach my baby to catch a ball?

Help them develop hand-eye coordination and hand control and strength through a variety of activities and practical life skills. From here it will come naturally when they are ready for it.

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