Babies like football, right?

Friday, 11 June 2010 is World Cup kick-off day and those of you with pre-school aged children or babies who also love football are in for a treat. Here’s the possibility of enjoying family time around a screen watching something you love. This post is by Nicola Baird, find more tips about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children in her new book, Homemade Kids.

When my first daughter Lola was born, a few days into the start of the 1998 World Cup, she spent hours curled into the chest of her dad (sometimes in a sling or a front carrier) as they “both” watched the event progress. For a new mum with a bit less interest in football it was brilliant birth-timing as I got extra hours to sleep and catch-up. Best of all my partner didn’t seem to mind what hour it was, because there was always a live game in the living room.

Some children seem born with ball skills – as babies they can’t keep their eyes off the soft balls, they edge and roll towards balls, they gurgle with delight when they catch up with a rolling thing. As we’re sure to see watching clips from this South African World Cup all around the world babies become ball-loving toddlers and then as school-going children too – playing whenever they can, in their bare feet, by kicking the ball (or whatever is ball-shaped and available) to friends.

The amount of hours put in play give these youngsters incredible footwork. And it is those play hours that are so often the basis of special talents as genius Malcolm Gladwell reminds us in his books.

Try storing balls in tubes or used Pringles jars.

Even so most of us are kicking around for fun. If you are entertaining pre-schoolers in the park it can help to take two balls along so that one doesn’t scoop up the ball and run off triumphant with a hostage (or switching to rugby). The problem can be getting to the park safely – two balls are awkward to carry unless you put them in a stretchy string bag (or plastic bag). Or just take smaller balls, keep an eye out for “lost” tennis balls, and if they can’t be returned to their owner, it’s finders keepers. Use jumpers for goal posts.

Hamish and George are good walkers, but add a football and they are unstoppable.

Kerb dribbling
You can’t trust a toddler roadside with a ball, but older children seem to get a lot of fun with a ball in a thin kit bag with long handles that they can kick along as they walk. You can try this to enliven any kind of walk, even a mountain climb (see pic).

A fair-trade football costs around £35, but there are cheaper ones available everywhere. If you have a ball-chaser in your home then you need to get a pump and needle inflation adaptor (or a football pump with this built-in, approx £2-£6) so you can keep the ball  properly inflated and resist demands for a new ball when today’s has gone a little bit soggy. Pumping up a ball has to be a proper parent skill, but children like learning this sort of stuff too!

Or make your own ball – little babies are happy playing with you and rolled-up socks. It’s one solution to what-to-do with mismatching items… Your toddler might enjoy making a rubber band ball by collecting up bands (these seem to be dropped by postmen/women all over the country) and hooking them over a scooter until there’s enough to secure around a core (tip: your ball will bounce better if you use scrunched up rubber bands as the core, but you get a bigger size if you start with scrunched up newspaper). I’m sure you could get a curious older child to create their own pig’s bladder ball, and then convince yourself that was a piece of impressive DIY schooling.

Ball books at the library
World Cup is a great time to read up on footie, and learn about which flags belong to which country. Here’s a range of books for the littlest to teens that are fun to readSuddenly (a Preston Pig story) by Colin McNaughton, Billy the Kid by Michael Morpugo, Goal by Michael Foreman and Bend it like Beckham by Narinder Dhami. But as For some of us the good news is that England’s manager Fabio Capello has brought along David Beckham to South Africa, you’ll probably find plenty of good football talent pix in every newspaper and gossip magazine for the next month.

Do let me know what tricks your baby learnt thanks to playtime chasing a ball… Thanks, Nicola x

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