I haven’t written a blog post in a while because my mind is tired. The kind of brain tired where when you are walking to do something, which is always, and a child hugs your legs as you stroll past or a teenage girl grabs you from behind and gives you a quick squeeze, and you completely forget everything that is rolling around in your head like balls. So, ironically, today’s topic is about balls, sort of.
I was visiting with another mom during a big social outing at our local coffee shop. It was the kind of day where women and kids of all ages are visiting everywhere and it is loud and she leans in and asks me a question. She says, “What do you think about stimulation?” My mouth nearly hit the floor because I am a BIG BIG BIG believer in stimulation. And not just stimulation for little kids but humans of all ages need to be stimulated, in a positive way, or we become depressed.
I don’t know the biological happenings of stimulation but it obviously creates brain connections to make us smarter and releases certain hormones that make us feel good. We learn and love all due to stimulation. So my answer was simple. I said, “Oh. My. Gosh. Stimulation is EVERYTHING.”
She has fostered children and she was telling me about a wonderful young man who is now a teenager. She told me about how he came to stay with them as a little tyke and what circumstances he came from. She told me some of her cool ideas and related how dramatically he grew and changed once he was given MORE. Not necessarily more stuff, MORE as in stimulation, things to do and see and touch and eat and be handled lovingly.
SIDE JUMP: I talk about our littlest girls’ specific challenges in this blog conversation but let’s not forget that any and all ideas can be molded and adapted to fit your family and each child.
I work towards keeping life interesting with the use of toys and changing the habitat inside of our house. Because let’s face it, if you are trapped in your home countless hours a day, day in and day out, with miniature humans you NEED to keep things interesting and real cause the moment you hear static they are standing on the highest shelf reaching with tiny fingers to grab the one thing you wish to not be played with, or eaten, or tossed onto the floor carelessly. These little humans just KNOW. CHANGE THE VIEW.
STILL SIDE JUMPING: I get up in the morning and try to LOOK with a fresh eye. For instance, take toys out of big baskets and put into smaller ones, put the big baskets away, and then put the smaller baskets right out into the middle of the floor. This tactic works for BIGGERS too when it comes to chores. Just putting something in a new location works.
For example, you want the trash taken out, set the trashcan right out into the middle of the path. You still have to say something cause, well, you just have to, but it is a lot harder to ignore when everyone has to walk around the weirdly placed trashcan. Peer pressure kicks in here too to the sound of one teenager hollering at another one. So change the VIEW to RE-STIMULATE the lazy humans.
If these 2 paragraphs sound out-of-place it’s because my husband read my pre-blog post and he wanted me to make it clear that this isn’t a blog about special needs; it is a way of thinking. It’s a different kind of stimulation and everyone is in the same circus trying to juggle a bunch of colorful BALLS in the air. Okay, big daddy, message added. 🙂
Onward from spousal high-jacking, our littlest is a preemie and she is nearly 21 months old. She is still tiny, she has low muscle tone, and hyper mobility in her joints. These lovely traits make her work harder to control her muscles and use her joints. We could have taken this diagnosis, when she hung like a limp noodle at birth, and despaired but we didn’t. If we had of I believe she would still be a limp noodle on the floor today.
We do joint compressions with her which involve taking a gentle hold on each side of a joint and pushing the joint together and apart. These actions send messages to the brain so the brain recognizes the pressure and learns what it feels like. It looks weird but it works and she likes it.
I put her under a jungle gym the moment I could slide her tiny self under there and played the soft tunes and lights the baby gym provided and changed out the hanging toys frequently. She could look, and see, and be challenged to reach out. All stimulation. This is the play tunnel I modified for side-rolling and reaching.
That start right there set off the chain reaction for changing out toys in our living room floor weekly, usually with some sort of theme in my mind, and a challenge for her. Her older siblings play with her too and each other, even with the silliest things in the floor.
The doll house was a big hit when she could sit up and reach in to grab out furnishings and throw them on the floor. Then, I removed the furnishings the next day and put her toys into it. Each day, I changed out what I put on the floors of the dollhouse. She could barely sit in front of it but she had to bend to see what was on the bottom floor at her feet, reach at eye level, and then tilt her head up to peer at what was on the third floor. I still rotate dollhouses in and out of the room.
The front room is constantly changing, sometimes it is buckets of rattles or toys you have to specifically open and close, or stack, or that sing and talk to her when she does something nice. You can imagine it is always sort of crazy but I can watch her explore and see how she problem solves and I feel like I can literally SEE brain connections being made, her body getting stronger, and her movements becoming more coordinated.
Recently, she started cruising so all the couch cushions get tossed onto the floor and she has to climb over them to get from one side of the room to the other and when she sits on the cushion and it sags she has to work hard to balance herself. The therapist would say that’s a great workout for her core. She learns to fall and to get on and off head first and feet first.
She learned to climb onto the couch, minus the cushions, and cruise the back of the couch. She felt big. She hollered and wanted everyone to see.
So this week is BALLS.
Grabbing a ball requires some extra mojo with the fingers. Which is a lot of mojo for a baby with hyper-mobile joints because her fingers bend backward in her sleeves when we dress her. (We try not to do that of course.) She has to work her hand muscles to grip and spread her fingers to hold firmly and then support the weight of the ball with the hand, wrist, and arm.
Then throwing the ball is an absolute must. She is getting good at throwing the balls and whatever unsuspecting thing that happens to be on end tables. And when she looks down and sees a ball near her foot she has to wiggle her foot to give the ball a push.
We roll balls to her and she rolls them back using her hands or feet. When I walked in and found her laying on top of a basketball and pushing with her feet, with her arms airplaning, I was utterly shocked and delighted.
Big balls are cool too. Sit the baby or toddler on the ball, support the little one’s hips, and tip them back and forth and side to side. They work naturally to right themselves, to bring their body to midline. Then bounce their little butt on the ball and it works on joint compressions as well as a host of other big words used by therapists. But really, it is just plain fun for any kid to lay or sit on the ball and be bounced or rolled gently. Our living room looks like Crazy Colorful Ball Land.
It is amazing how many balls we had in our house when I started searching. I am amazed at how many different sizes, weights, and textures of balls I found. I found balls that rattle and jingle, a freebie from the bank, a bouncy ball too big for the mouth, sports balls that are heavy, a cat jingle ball that was never given to a cat, balls from a ball hut, and balls that belong with toddler toys.
This photo is an optical illusion but it perfectly illustrates where there is a will there is a way. She sees me type here everyday and she has figured out that the screen is a touch screen. She spends a great deal of her day trying to figure out how to get up here onto the brown hassock and throw my keyboard onto the floor, push the mouse button repeatedly and if all else fails scoot really close to the screen and touch it with one finger to see the screens change.
She makes me crazy. But this picture makes me happy because isn’t desire everything? In fact, she helped me type this post. Blame all the typos on the baby.
So, then, I threw in a baby bathtub so we can pick up the balls throughout the day and she surprised me by crawling in with the balls and throwing them out. So if one tub is good then why not two? I added a second and now she crawls from one to the other and transfers balls. What a surprise. What started out as a pickup strategy turned into another play opportunity.
It looks cool. It IS dangerous to misstep.
But really, I wouldn’t have it any other way. She is learning and doing and is happy. We all play with her. She isn’t a limp noodle and I think stimulation is everything. Everything.
Music makes us feel good and teaches us subconscious math. Food tastes surprising and is oddly rewarding. Toys are fun to play with and manipulate. Going for a walk lets us see and hear and smell. Being spoken to stimulates our brains to interact and reach for conversation. Changing the scenery in our habitat stimulates us into taking action. And, most important of all……HUGS.
The rest isn’t important if we don’t give and receive LOVE, the ultimate in stimulation. Sounds kinda dorky. 🙂
May your day be stimulating and happy and be full of balls. 🙂