Ball Tracks are a popular and engaging experience for young children. In my own Montessori Infant and Toddler classrooms (our 'Nido' Playgroup and our Bambini program for 2-3 year olds) our Ball Track is a permanent fixture in the prepared environment.
There are many available variations on the 'Ball Track' theme but I spent a great deal of time looking for one that I would feel proud to feature here at Montessori Child. Finally I found one that offers the aesthetic beauty, developmental benefits and engaging opportunities that young children deserve!
The Ball Track measures approximately 40cm wide x 50cm tall with a 'depth' of 10cm. The broader frame on the base ensures that the track is quite stable.
Natural wood is the most prominent feature of the Ball Tracks' overall appearance. The painted tracks then provide enough colour to be attractive without being excessively or distractingly patterned.
The Ball Track comes with 4 balls in different colours emulating the colours of the tracks! The presence balls and tracks provide a fun early counting opportunity - an adult can encourage the child to count along as the balls are dropped, or to drop a single ball but count to 5 as it drops along each track!
The wooden base collects the balls. This inspires repetition and focus. Also ideal for a Toddler 'first classroom community' because the balls are not constantly rolling around the room causing distraction or obstruction to others.
There are four spaces at the top of the frame where the child can line up or store the four balls that are not in the hand. The child can use this to create coloured patterns or simply to ensure that the extra balls are not lost while waiting to be dropped!
The 40cm width is broad enough to inspire 'crossing the midline' but still small enough to be portable (and storable!).
Crossing the midline is an important developmental milestone for young children. It is something that, if not achieved early, can cause great discomfort and distraction for older children and can therefore require a great deal of effort to correct through Occupational Therapy in the later years. Crossing the midline essentially consists of the child breaking the barrier created by the invisible 'midline' that runs vertically through the centre of the body. Babies and very young children will tend to refrain from crossing this midline - they will pick up something on the right side of the body with the right hand and if they hear a sound to the left they will turn the whole head to look at it. Activities such as Ball Tracks help to promote the crossing of the midline in terms of both physical movements and visual tracking. The child is encouraged to use the dominant hand to reach across the body - crossing the midline - to place the ball in the hole on the top of the track. As the balls roll the child's eyes are inspired to track them from side to side (rather than turning the whole head), allowing the eyes to visually cross the midline.
The Ball Track also provides the additional 'visual tracking' exercise of allowing the eyes to follow a smoothly moving target. Visually tracking is an incredibly important pre-reading skill so it is useful for young children to engage in activities that literally exercise the muscles of the eyes in preparation for tracking words across a page!
As with all of our wooden products, the Ball Track is made from sustainable sources (using plantation timbers) and is decorated with non-toxic materials.
The general age recommendation listed by the manufacturers for this product is 3+.
However, manufacturers tend to err on the side of caution when listing ‘recommended ages’ because of their legal liabilities. So while we can not directly contradict these recommended ages we do empower you to make your own informed decisions, based on balancing safety concerns and developmental value, about whether or not you feel a particular resource is appropriate for your child(ren) or classroom. Many Montessori-inspired parents and teachers will be familiar with the fact that children are often capable of effectively and joyfully using products at a younger age than the number specified ‘on the box’. This is particularly true when support, supervision and presentations are provided (as outlined in our Safety Suggestions). In the case of the Ball Track I have found, in my own personal experience, that the resource is most enjoyable and valuable for toddlers.
Please note: Due to its size the Ball Track attracts our Heavy/Bulky Goods shipping fee of $28. This is a flat fee so you can add other items to your order and your shipping cost will remain $28.