Here at Gugu Guru we are all about celebrating all types of families, so when we came across the blog Coraline and Us, we knew we wanted to have Liz, the mama behind the blog, come and share her story. Liz started her blog upon the birth of her adorable little Coraline, when it was “discovered unexpectedly within hours, that she has Down’s syndrome and two holes in the heart. We did not know anything about Down’s syndrome when she was born. This blog is about our journey of growth.” Read on for more about Liz, Coraline, and Kevin and stay tuned for more blog posts from Liz on helpful baby products, toys, and more for babies with Down’s syndrome. You can find Liz on her blog, Facebook, and Instagram. You can check out Liz’s first post on Gugu Guru here, and Coraline’s love for Ewan the Dream Sheep here. Today Liz is sharing about Coraline’s ball pit and the importance of it for her sensory experiences.
We have some beautiful memories around Coraline’s ballpit. Coraline’s godmother gave it to her for her first Christmas, December 2017, when she was four months old. It’s still going strong today and Coraline is almost three years old.
Coraline sat up for the first time in June 2018, at ten months old.
I remember our first time at Baby Sensory when Coraline was ten months old. We hadn’t been able to take Coraline to any baby classes for the first nine months of her life, so as to keep her well, on the advice of her Cardiology team.
Coraline required open heart surgery, and in the time before this her body might not have been able to cope if she got ill (she would have had to go into hospital). But they gave us the go ahead to get out and mix for a number of months when they felt she was strong enough, though we were still careful to not sit next to anyone directly unwell. Coraline loved going into the ballpit at Baby Sensory, during her very first session there. Coraline ended up having her open-heart surgery at 15 months old. They were waiting for the optimum time when she was strong enough to have it and as old as possible, so her heart was a little bigger. It went so well, and she was home within the week.
Our ballpit has a flimsy type base which works great and makes it really easy to have either indoors, or take outside, or fold down and pack away. The wonderful thing was watching her develop from being able to sit, to being able to crawl (she began in February 2019 aged one and a half, and by May 2019 she was crawling between rooms and by September 2019 she was a speedy crawler). Coraline is now not yet walking but she is an accomplished crawler and she can get up onto the sofa and turn around on it to get down again, and she can crawl up the stairs which happened just a couple of months ago.
As the crawling developed it was amazing to see Coraline actually pulling herself into the ballpit over the side of it. These moments are wonderful, and I remember how big it felt! She is now in and out of the ballpit all the time. She loves to pull all her books into it and read them there.
During this time of lockdown in Spring and Summer 2020, where we have been at home for 13 weeks, the ballpit has been brilliant. We can take it outside into the garden. We go to a great weekly development group (Digbies stands for “developing individual growth by imaginative play, education and speech”). Coraline is not yet talking. We are working on the Makaton sign language for colours at Digbies (red, blue, green and yellow) so in play, as often as possible, we say and sign the colours. The ballpit is brilliant for this. I say to Coraline, “let’s take all the red balls out” and then I will say “red balls in” as we put them back in. Coraline does not yet know what I mean when I say let’s choose all the red balls, but she does have a sense of signing the colours. She can definitely sign blue and has a go at signing the other colours. I have moved on to more colours as well as these four.
But the ballpit is great practise for colours as children with Down’s syndrome learn by a lot of repetition and also visually. I have laminated the word “red” on a red piece of card in big lowercase letters and then often I will have that on the ground next to the pile of red balls, and the same for the other colours.
I remember in lockdown beginning by trying to do all the recommended toddler online zoom sessions or online groups but they just did not sit right for her developmental level and I quickly learned this. I came back to the trusty items we have at home which she loves, and which can really teach so much through play.
Coraline can currently say an approximation of one word which is “cat” and her second word which she is having a go at is “ball”. Having flash cards like this is all part of visual learning.