Posted on March 18, 2012 by Christine Crosby in 

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What do tennis balls, aluminum foil, paper cups and socks have in common?

These are four of my favorite – yet unexpected – school readiness activities.  And, there are almost endless ways to use these common, everyday items to enjoy learning opportunities with your grands.  Best of all: These are perfect for indoor activity during the winter months or on rainy days year ’round.

How do I know?  Playing with my grandchidren proved my point as these photos show…and demonstrated these will engage both young and old. Best of all, these activities allow for child-directed fun, rather than adult-directed or pre-scripted ‘game rules’.


Oversized, soft ‘practice’ tennis balls inspire all kinds of tossing, catching and chasing which help develop large and small motor skills as well as eye-hand coordination.  These are sold at Target for about $5.00 for three.  They bounce really well and are easy for small hands to grab and throw.  And, because they are really soft, are great for indoor play, too.


  • Throwing and catching indoors with one person standing behind a sofa or chair.  Makes it more interesting.
  • Catch with a basket, small box or plastic food storage container.
  • Try throwing the ball using the containers.
  • Line up several different containers on the floor and try throwing the balls into them.  Can be difficult getting the balls to remain in the container; yet, it’s just as much fun when the balls bounce into, and then out of, the containers.
  • Hold a large plastic container or laundry basket at your waist level.  Have your grandchild toss the balls into it.  For variety and more challenge, slowly move the container to the side or up and down. Laugh, even if the child misses getting the ball in it, and offer encouragement such as ‘Great try!” or “Almost!”  Enjoy, too, how the balls bounce, when they miss the container.


Aluminum Foil torn into differently sized pieces can be folded, crunched, shaped, crushed and flattened. It’s easily manipulated by small hands, encouraging experimentation and seemingly endless entertainment.  Smash and flatten with hands, cups, bowls or plastic jars.  Crushed and flattened pieces can be ‘recycled’ by rolling into large balls for more fun.  Using child safety scissors, the pieces can be cut into shapes.  These activities develop small motor skills necessary for writing, painting and drawing, buttoning and zipping clothes. (Note: Heavy duty foil works best.)



Large Paper Cups, the kind you buy in large quantities at places like Sam’s club, offer an entirely different variety of fun and learning.  They can be stacked to make layers and stacked inside each other.

Your grands can pile them inside each other and measure ‘how many cups tall’ they are.  They can patiently stack in layers, then knock down the cups and roll around the floor with them.  These cups can be used to ‘catch’ small and medium-sized balls.  These activities help develop small motor skills and help with pre-math and math readiness.  Stack the cups and ask your grands which stack is smaller, larger, the same size.  Count the cups in each stack and then all the stacks.



Rolled-Up Socks are a great use for those pesky single socks that get lost in the washer or dryer.  Take the single socks, roll two together and ball them up.  Find a large plastic storage container or laundry basket and use it as with the tennis balls.  Move it around, up and down to encourage development of eye-hand coordination and large motor skills.  For added fun and more eye-hand coordination development, use the container to ‘toss’ the socks out of the container back towards the child.  My grandchildren (then ages 3 and 6 ½) had so much fun with this activity, when my husband added this twist.  They just laughed and laughed.

You can set the container against a kitchen cabinet on the floor and stand back, aim and throw.  We discovered that the socks often ‘bounced’ off the cabinet and fell into the container.

Get into the mindset that everyday items – though unusual for school readiness learning – provide you with lots of activity ideas to enjoy with your grandchildren.  Remember: You don’t have to buy toys for fun and school readiness learning.  It can happen just with you, your grands and everyday things.

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