Ball runs: why they’re good for children with disability, autism or other additional needs
In a ball run activity, you use cardboard and other materials to make ramps and routes for balls.
Making and playing with a ball run helps children with disability, autism or other additional needs build fine motor skills. And if children are working with others on a ball run, this activity can help them learn to take turns, solve problems and work in a team. Playing with shared objects like balls can build children’s communication skills and social confidence too.
A ball run activity also helps children learn numeracy concepts like shape, size and speed, and science concepts like gravity and cause and effect.
What you need for a ball run activity
You can use materials and objects from around your home for this activity. You need:
- recycled cardboard and other materials, like empty cereal boxes, cardboard tubes, rulers or smooth planks of wood
- tape, string, wire, brackets and screws to secure the ball run
- balls – for example, marbles, ping pong balls, tennis balls or soccer balls.
Avoid small parts, breakable parts or brittle materials that might be choking hazards. Product Safety Australia’s free, do-it-yourself Choke Check tool can help you identify toys and other objects that pose choking or ingestion hazards.
How to make and play with a ball run
Ball runs can be as simple as one ramp, or they can have many connecting pieces.
Here are some tips and ideas:
- Connect lengths of cardboard together to make a ramp for a ball to run along. You can stick the pieces together or just place them end to end.
- Use L-shaped cardboard edges or tubes that will keep the ball running in a particular direction.
- Balance pieces along a couch or off a table, or use cushions to support a ramp.
- Make a vertical ball run by sticking the cardboard to a wall using masking tape.
- Create more secure or permanent ball runs by screwing brackets into a wall to hold the elements together.
- Try rolling different balls or toy cars along the track.
- Use a stopwatch to time how long it takes for balls and other objects to move through the run.
Your child might need your help with this activity, depending on their age and ability – and their ambition!
How to adapt ball runs to suit children with diverse abilities
For children who have difficulty with fine motor skills, you could make a large-scale ball run, which you can use with a big ball like a soccer ball. These ramps will need to be bigger and stronger. For example, you could angle a plank of wood from a table and roll the ball down the plank, or pile up cushions and cover them with cardboard sheets to make a ramp.
For children who have difficulty with social interaction, this activity can be a great way to play alongside others rather than face to face. Children can focus on the objects and still be close to others, taking turns to run a ball along the track.
For children with vision impairment, you could try using larger balls and balls with high-contrast colours. Another idea is to try adding sound to the ball run. For example, you could drop a ball into a metal pot, or use a ball with a bell inside it.
Looking for more play and learning ideas for your child? You might like to explore our other activity guides. Some of these have been created for typically developing children, but they can all be adapted to suit children with diverse strengths and abilities.