Enabling Environments: Tried and Tested - On the ball

There's no end of variations on one of the most basic playthings, in new versions tried out by early years settings for Nicole Weinstein.

Ball games encourage children to play, interact and socialise. They are important for a child's physical development, refining both fine and gross motor skills as they pick up and throw or catch the ball. They also help with balance and overall mobility, and they encourage children to share and take turns.



AGE: 3+

PRICE: £19.99

CONTACT: 0870 1620042, www.des-uk-shop.com

This pack includes two 30cm disks with foam rims and mesh centres and a small rubber-string ball.

Tested by Carrie Bennett, childminder, Hampshire

'The children had great fun exploring this product and were impressed with its versatility. All three elements are tactile and colourful. The bounce from the discs is deceptively high. All the children were able to join in - even the two-year-old - enabling children with different abilities to play together. At first they used the discs like tennis rackets. The older ones competed to discover who would gain the greatest bounce from the discs. The younger children played together, batting the ball to one another, and the older ones then joined in to play 'Piggy-in-the-middle'. We then played 'catch'. Not being a ball in the traditional sense, it was much easier for them to handle. Within the setting one child has dyspraxia. The sides were easy to grip and the child was engaged in bi-lateral movement, balance and hand-eye control without recognising it.

'I think the price is high, but the equipment is more versatile than some on the market.'

Star Rating: **** (Very Good)




AGE: 3+

PRICE: £27.95

CONTACT: 0113 2775585, www.ascoeducational.co.uk

Large, inflatable ball (50cm diameter), containing 12 small, coloured balls.

Tested by Blyth Valley Children's Centre, Northumberland

'The ball was placed in the nursery room for the children to discover. The majority of them sat on the ball and bounced, exploring cause and effect through bouncing harder and harder until they were propelled off. Some used it as a balancing tool, lying across on their tummies using their arms as props and pushing their legs up in the air. A few enjoyed banging their hands off it like a drum to get propulsion, making their arms flail about. They were curious when they hit the ball and caused the balls inside to jump around and create noise and movement within. Some of the braver children investigated projection by jumping bodily on to the ball and being flung back. For this reason, I would recommend using the ball on a carpeted or grass area.

'We were concerned at how easily the plug fitted into the hole after the initial inflation, but it did not dislodge. I think it's expensive. We could buy a similar product from a sports shop for half the price and the children would enjoy the same experiences.'

Star Rating: *** (Good)




AGE: 3+

PRICE: £69.99

CONTACT: 08451 999970, www.earlyyears.co.uk

A pack of 16 soft balls - sensory balls, bell balls, easy-grip rugby balls and reactaballs - ideal for throwing and catching exercises, supplied in a drawstring bag.

Tested by Enjoy-a-ball, a national sports coaching programme for children in schools and nurseries in north London

'Children between the ages of two-and-a-half and four were initially given the opportunity to play freely with the balls. They clearly liked the bright colours, the different textures of the balls and the way the balls moved differently around the room when they were thrown or bounced. They were mainly interested in the blue round balls and the smaller transparent balls with a bell inside.

'During our structured activities the children enjoyed throwing, bouncing, kicking and shaking these balls. They were least interested in the irregular shaped reactaball, as it was relatively heavy and they seemed unsure with what to do with it. However, these were useful in helping children with their motor co-ordination, and the younger siblings were fascinated by their bright orange colour and enjoyed rolling and chasing them. The blue and pink balls were excellent tools for practising catching skills, as the textured spiky surface allowed extra grip for the children's small hands. The blue round balls were also useful for practising bouncing skills, as their light weight meant that children needn't apply too much pressure in order to get the balls to bounce.

'I found that the balls picked up dirt from the floor fairly easily and the bell-balls needed re-inflation on an hourly basis. At just over £4 per ball, I think the pack is good value for money. I would certainly consider buying this pack, although I would probably only use the blue round and pink rugby balls on a regular basis.'

Star Rating: **** (Very Good)




AGE: 0-3

PRICE: £23.95

CONTACT: 0800 318686, www.tts-group.co.uk


Set of six balls, 39 x 30 x 18 cm, in vibrant colours with different textures, jingling bells and rattling beads.

Tested by Tamworth Early Years Children's Centre, Staffordshire

'We tested the balls with our nursery children and in our family groups. The nought to 18-month-olds were encouraged to explore the balls independently, and many were attracted to the bright colours and the different sounds and textures. They enjoyed rolling and kicking them. The younger children in the nursery room explored the balls at circle time and enjoyed shaking them to explore what sounds they made. They were a great addition to our sensory room play basket and would be worth purchasing for the under-18-month age group. The older children did not appear interested in them. However, the overall feeling from staff is that the balls are slightly overpriced. It's a real bonus that the balls are washable.'

Star Rating: 3 out of 5 (Good)




AGE: 3+

PRICE: £14.25

CONTACT: 0800 318686, ww.tts-group.co.uk


Six brightly coloured balls showing different emotions - happy, sad, excited, amazed, frightened and angry. Size: 20 cm diameter.

Tested by Downsend Epsom Lodge pre-school, Surrey

'Each ball was shown to the children and they were asked if they could copy the emotion. They were then put into pairs and asked to roll a ball to each other. When they were holding the ball they were asked to make the same expression shown on the ball. The balls were great for encouraging discussion about emotions. We all sat in a circle, a ball was rolled across the room and the child who received it had to look at the expression and say, 'I feel happy when ...', or 'I feel angry when ...'. The children really liked the colours and the different expressions.

'I would definitely consider buying them, but it would help if they came with examples of ways to use them. They are good value for money and they help develop not only ball skills but also personal and social ones.'

Star Rating:**** (Very Good)




AGE: 0+

PRICE: 16cm ball, £9.80; 18cm ball, £13.60; 21cm ball, £15.90.

CONTACT: 0115 9899765, www.wesco-group.com

Washable, tough foam balls coated in non-toxic plastic, which always return to their original shape after being squashed.

Tested by Heathfield House Day Nursery, Warrington

'The children had fun with these colourful, squidgy balls. Not only did they encourage physical activity, but they also helped promote good communication. They were used at circle time when the children held the ball and were encouraged to say something, such as their name. The threeyear-olds stood in a line while one child rolled a ball through their legs. The smaller ball was good for the toddlers, as it was easier to pick up and handle. A child who doesn't normally engage in ball sports was observed kicking and playing with the small red ball.

'My only slight concern is that a young child might bite into the foam and choke, but this did not happen.

'I would consider buying these just because we don't have anything similar, but beyond the fact that they are squidgy, they do nothing that an ordinary ball cannot do.'

Star Rating:*** (Good)



Linda Godley, Bewbush nursery, West Sussex, says, 'Our favourite balls are Spordas SloMo Bumpballs TM(tm). They are about 12cm in diameter and are a soft rubber with large pimples that you can blow up yourself. When the children throw them to one another they move slower than a normal ball, so it allows the child more time to prepare to catch it. They also do not hurt if they accidentally get thrown at a child.'

A set of six balls, priced at £17.95, is available from Hope Education at http://www.hope-education.co.uk/primary-school-supplies/pe/balls/spordas-slomo-bumpballs


All prices are exclusive of VAT and post/packaging

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