It is almost impossible to take young children for a walk in the woods or along the beach without them picking up a stick, rock or seashell and throwing it into the air. Children love the feeling of propelling an object away from their body and watching where it goes.
In addition to providing a simple thrill, throwing is a necessary skill for children to develop so they can enjoy the many different games and activities that require the ability to aim and throw. Luckily, teaching your child to throw can be as simple as it is fun.
There are three styles of throwing – overhand, underhand and sidearm – but your child should master the overhand throw first. When learning any style, your child should focus on the distinct phases of throwing: preparation, throw and follow-through.
In the preparation phase of throwing, your child will hold her arm behind her head to build up momentum. Next, she will actually release the object she is throwing, and finally, she will engage in follow-through to help her aim and provide balance to keep her from falling forward.
Now that we’ve gone through the basics, use the following seven simple steps to guide you as you teach your child to throw:
- Choose the right equipment. The size of your child’s hands will determine what equipment is appropriate to throw, but a small beanbag or tennis ball-sized soft ball is typically a good option. Make sure the ball has enough weight to give your child some ability to aim. Yarn balls or sponges are options for practicing indoors.
- Use learning cues. Use simple, short phrases to help your child focus on the different parts of the throwing motion. For example, in the preparation phase, the cue could be to “hold the arm way back” behind the head. During the throwing phase, direct your child to “step forward with the opposite foot” from his throwing hand. During follow-through, remind him to “follow the throw” with his arm straight to the target.
- Master each phase one at a time. Spend a few days or a week working on each phase of throwing. Over time, your child will put the steps together into one fluid throwing motion.
- Use physical guidelines. Many young children struggle to step with their opposite foot when throwing. Placing a rope or tape line on the ground for your child to step over will help her see where to move her foot, or you can place a sticker on the toe of her opposite shoe to remind her to step out with that foot.
- Focus on power first. In his beginning attempts to throw, your child doesn’t need to worry about his aim. If you simply ask him to throw the ball as far or hard as possible, he will engage in the full range of the throwing motion and develop the basic skill.
- Take time for target practice. After your child has mastered the throwing motion, develop her aim by setting up shoulder-high targets. Paper plates or cardboard make great targets, especially when they have been decorated! Have your child stand 3 to 5 feet away from the target (or another distance that is appropriate for her skill level), and encourage her to move further from the target as her accuracy improves.
- Keep practicing. When your child has mastered the overhand throw, move on to the underhand toss. And most importantly, keep having fun!