Saturday, May 8, 2010

Sensory Saturday: Pack and Play Ball Pit

When LM was 2 year old (and not yet diagnosed)I took him to a friends birthday party at a local kids gym. The party program itself was a recipe for disaster: 20 toddlers shrieking, wide open spaces, no transitions between activities, and worst of all: me. An "unseasoned" mom new to this whole diagnosis, neurotic because LM was alternating between tantruming and spinning in circles.

But then a breakthrough. It was "freeplay" time and they opened the ball pit. (I'll add a sidenote here: I was totally THAT mom who believed the chain email I got about the disgusting germ infested toxic dump that is a kids ball pit - it took everything in me not to snatch him out!)So LM dove in and did this dolphin-like spin/dive/swim and for the first time had some interaction with another child. At least he looked in her direction and sort of played a "ball toss" with her. I won't say that the rest of the party was great, but there was a huge difference in his activity level after this.

A week later we started OT in a sensory gym and I learned all about the wonders of the ball pit. The ball pit is one of those super great activities that can both awaken AND calm senses depending on the needs of the child. I'll also add that its the one activity that a child instinctively knows what they need to do to regulate themselves in. Even as a 2 year old with no language (expressive or comprehensive) and the play skills of a 3 month old, LM knew just how to "use" the ball pit.

After seeing how much LM loved it and understanding the sensory benefits we decided to set up a ball pit at home. We went out and bought a mid-priced inflatable one. It was junk. It looked cute and had characters, but was much too shallow for even a small 2 year old to really "submerge" in. Next we got a small kiddie pool and bought 300 extra balls. Defenitely better, but took up a lot of room and the balls went flying everywhere when LM statred playing. And my neat-freak husband was twitching with all the balls everywhere.

LM was napping in his pack and play playpen and I had an epiphany. How about a ball pit in the pack and play? It was perfect. Deep enough to hold 400 balls that didnt spill out the top and enough room for LM to dive and roll in. And an added bonus: I could lift and shake the whole thing making "waves". The PNP ball pit is still the most used "toy" in our house and the first thing our playdate friends run for. It's the perfect multifunction toy.

The best part is that LM knows to go play in his ball pit for a few minutes when he needs to calm down. Giving him this self-regulation opportunity is priceless and a huge step towards getting him to manage on his own. If I had a must-have list, this would be at the top.

Happy Saturday!

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