Two British Speech Therapists writing about all things speech and language.

How to use… a ball

We write a lot of reviews of products and apps on this blog and share lots of exciting things we’ve found that are good for therapy. However, sometimes this can give the impression that you need to spend lots of money to support speech and language development and that’s really not true. You can use virtually anything around to support a child’s speech and language skills – it’s just about looking at what you’ve got and seeing how you can adapt it. That’s why we were keen to start a series of posts about how to use everyday toys that everyone probably has in their home or therapy cupboard. Elizabeth wrote a while ago about how to use bubbles in therapy. Today, I’m going to talk about another staple toy – a ball.


Since I travel around to different homes and schools, I’m always careful to choose a very soft ball (preferably one made of foam) so that I know that the likelihood of breaking someone’s antique vase is limited (hopefully to pretty much zero!) Of course, if you’re outside this matters less!…

Here are a few of the things I do with a ball during therapy:-

  • A ball is an obvious turn-taking toy. Rolling a ball to another person and catching when they roll it back again is a very simple activity but I use it to work on all sorts of skills – copying an action, shared attention, eye contact and taking turns with an adult. All of these are really important early language skills.
  • Waiting – after a while I start to build up the child’s attention level by holding on to the ball for a little longer and saying “ready steady…” then pausing before saying “go”. This builds up the child’s attention level and often encourages early vocalisations, as the child says “go” themselves to try to get you to roll the ball back.
  • Making choices – once the child has mastered rolling a ball back and forth, I often add in a choice element – shall we roll or bounce the ball? Shall I roll it to mummy or you? (I would use the child’s name rather than say you, as it’s less confusing). If you’re outside you might want to add in kicking, throwing or hitting a ball, but I don’t think most people would appreciate me doing that in their lounge! (I have done this with a balloon indoors though!)
  • Early listening games – I put 2 or 3 different pictures on the floor and ask the child to listen to which one I said and roll the ball to it. For example, I might use two sound pictures, and ask the child to identify whether I said “fff” or “p”. Alternatively, I might use animal pictures and ask the child to roll the ball to the cow if I say “moo” or a sheep if I say “baa”. Sometimes I might add a skittle for each picture, so that the child can knock those down with the ball, but you don’t have to do this.
  • Early concepts – if you have lots of balls you can sort them into big ones and little ones or sort them by colour to re-inforce these concepts.
  • Prepositions – put the ball in different places – behind the sofa, under the chair, next to the table etc.

There are lots of obvious early language games you can play with a ball, as you can see. But it can be just as good a therapy tool with older children too. Here are a few ideas:-

  • Play a “hot potato” game. The idea is to say something when you have the ball but then pass it on as quickly as you can. These games work really well in a group but you can also play 1:1. There are all sorts of things you can ask the child to say when they have the ball – for example, you could ask everyone to name something in a particular category as quickly as they can (eg as many different animals as the group can think of). You could ask them to say something that makes them feel happy or use the word “because” in a sentence or say a word associated with the word that went before – anything you like really, depending on what the child is working on.
  • Turn-taking – a ball can be a great turn-taking tool for older children too. Use it to indicate whose turn it is to talk. The person with the ball is talking, so everyone needs to listen to them and look at them while they’re talking. Then they pass the ball on to the next person who wants to speak. It can also be an easy way of children identifying whether they talk too much/ not enough – have a discussion about it afterwards. EG “George you had the ball a lot of the time in that discussion. Sophie did you get a chance to get the ball?”
  • Vocabulary – You could target verb vocabulary especially. How many different things can you do with a ball – bounce, tap, strike, juggle, spin etc. You could also target adjectives, especially if you have a range of different balls. See how many words they can generate to describe them – eg rough, noisy, soft, spiky, shiny, transparent etc.
  • Following instructions – you could work on memory, concepts and ability to follow instructions. Start by giving one instruction for the child to follow eg “bounce the ball to the door”. Gradually build it up eg “throw the ball up and catch it twice then roll it under the blue chair”. Give the child a chance to give instructions too for you to follow.

What else have you done to support speech and language development using a ball?

For more posts in this series, look at how to use a teddy or dolly, a car or train, a box, a jigsaw puzzle and bubbles.


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