A mini basketball to be precise. Not the first thing that springs to mind when people think about children's music classes, but actually one of the most important pieces of equipment I carry. The ball is often the first form of communication I have with a child. In a babies class (0-2 years), while the children usually won't speak to me, all the children will get the hang of me rolling the ball to them and them rolling it back to me. It's a simple interaction, it doesn't even need words (although I do sing "roll the ball to ..." when I do it). It's just a way of saying it's ok, I'm not asking you to talk to me, I'm just acknowledging that you've come here and I'm sort of saying hello. For some children rolling the ball is one of their favourite parts of the lesson, probably because we do it every session, every week, it's dependable, reliable, simple, fun. It does however, serve a musical purpose, everything really should do in a music class. Rolling the ball and singing actually shows the musical phrase. I start rolling as I start singing "roll the ball to...." and it should hopefully reach the child's hands when I finish the phrase by saying their name. The children then learn to do the same as they return the ball and we sing "roll it back to Tim".
Later the ball has even more uses. From 2 years upwards the children learn to bounce, and throw the ball while singing to me, again, showing the duration of the musical phrase as they do so. A ball can also be used to show the different sections of a piece of music. The children can be doing one actions with the ball (e.g holding it on their head) and then change to a different action (e.g bouncing to parent/carer) when they hear the music change.
Passing the ball around the circle while we sing helps to visually show the pulse of the music which can lead to lots of fun games. I especially love doing these sorts of passing games in schools as it really helps to develop the children's sense of pulse and the game element makes them want to keep on singing what are usually pretty simple songs.
As the children get older (8+) the actions get harder. Rather than just passing on the beat I might ask them to show 4 beats in a bar by going bounce-catch-pass-pass. Or they are only allowed to pass the ball on specific words in a song. It all really helps to focus their concentration and hopefully gives them a greater understanding of the music.
So there it is, a small orange ball, but so much more.... No surprise that I buy as many as I can every time I see them in Tescos!