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Bumper Balls! A Fun and Educational Activity for Toddlers and Mixed-Age Groups

If you ever tried to play a game with toddlers or a mixed-age group that includes toddlers, you're going to know what I mean when I mention chaos. The truth is that toddlers' brains just aren't ready to learn things by the rules. They are mavericks by nature. And yet, according to the Harvard Center for the Developing Child, they learn more during these years than they ever will again.

It is possible to teach very young children to play by the rules but in my book, it takes too much effort and puts a damper on the fun aspect. The science of learning tells us that fun is everything so once an activity is no longer fun for a young child, it loses some of its magic.

That's why I initiate a game of Bumper Balls during most outdoor play times. It helps me stay active and involved with the kids. It helps their brains connect and learn. It teaches social skills in a non-threatening way. It keeps them active and happy. On chilly days it helps them to stay warm.

Here's how to play!

Find every available playground ball of all shapes and sizes and gather them towards the center of the play area. Large areas work the best.

Put on some fun, lively music and yell Bumper Balls! Run up to a ball and kick it with the goal of bumping another. Continue kicking until kids join in on the fun. The only rule is to play safely. Some kids will throw balls and that's OK! The teacher can play the role of kicking stray balls toward the center. Keep playing until the teacher gets exhausted and even then the kids will continue to play on their own.

Why this works:

Our brains develop rapidly by switching from right to left while running. There's new brain research from the University of Michigan that actually demonstrates this. (see citations below)

As an early childhood educator for over 40 years, I've often been told to have children reach for objects across the center line of their bodies. It helps benefit brain development in a similar way to crawling by forming new and more complex brain connections. When used repeatedly, these connections will persist and grow to serve us for the rest of our lives.

Games like Bumper Balls are really fun for kids and there's a reason for it. PLAY! is the natural predecessor to skills like reading, math, and science. Emotions do spark learning!

Here's a printout you can share with parents.

Want more toddler games that actually work?

How about some tips for boundary setting with children and adults?

Or how about some good old-fashioned encouragement for doing one of the hardest yet most important and least respected jobs in the universe?

Join me here. It's free!

Get the exact words to use when dealing with common childhood issues like cleaning up, tattling, or positive communication in this slideshow I designed for early childhood educators and parents.

Early Childhood Rocks is a nonprofit organization dedicated to changing the world through early childhood education

Nanci J Bradley is an early childhood and family educator, author, teacher, family aerobics instructor, and an all-around fun-loving person. She believes in the power of sleep, healthy eating, lifelong learning, and most of all, PLAY! (click on the word) She studied early childhood ed at Triton College and received her BS in education in 1986 from NIU. She received her MA in human development from Pacific Oaks College in 2011. She lives and teaches in Madison WI.


“Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University.” Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, 4 Dec. 2017,

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