Saturday, July 10, 2010

Blueberry Picking: Nature's Hidden Therapy

Sometimes as parents, we have some crazy ideas. More often than not, these ideas come back to bite us in the rump. But other times they actually work out really well. Blueberry picking was one such idea.

As we drove to Erie Orchards, I couldn't help but ask myself repeatedly why we were doing this. Gallivanting around the blueberry bushes with a three week old infant, and a very spirited toddler, was suddenly not appealing to me as much as it had earlier in the morning. That morning, I had pictured Evie sleeping peacefully in the sling as Jonah and I plopped juicy berries into his special pail. We'd been reading the book "Blueberries for Sal" by Robert McCloskey and I'm always trying to find ways to teach Jonah where our food comes from. So, when my friend emailed me to let me know that blueberries were ready for picking, it seemed like a good idea at the time! But now, as the van got closer to our destination, the pictures in my head were those of a screaming inconsolable infant, and a blond haired tornado covered in blue stains as he smashed handfuls into his mouth between tantrums. And now, for better or for worse, my mother-in-law had been added to these pictures.

When we arrived at the farm and unloaded the crew, I could see my premonitions coming true. We went into the front shop to check in, and I remembered that Jonah needed sunblock. As I fished the lotion out of my bag, Jonah caught sight of some blueberries in cartons. He waved his hand at them and signed "please." And here it starts... I thought. I told him we'd be getting our own blueberries soon. Apparently, that was not the answer Jonah wanted. He wouldn't even stand still for me to put the lotion on him. He wanted to wander around. He wanted those berries! I was about to call it off, but we eventually got ourselves together and made our way out to the blueberry field.

We found that the stroller was actually useable out in the field. We thought that even if Jonah didn't want to sit in it, at least we could use it to cart the blueberries back to the van. Jonah did sit in it until we found the perfect place to start picking. As we passed each bush, Jonah signed "flower" and stuck his nose out to sniff. We finally found a spot on the edge of the field where there were plenty of ripe berries. As Jonah got out of the stroller, all worries disappeared. We were the only people picking at that time, so there was no one to disturb. Evie was already sleeping in the sling. Things were looking good.

We took Jonah to the bushes, and he continued signing "flower." I finally got him to focus enough to show him what was on the bush. His eyes got wide, and he said a word I hadn't ever heard him say before: "Bew BEE!!!" I laughed "Blueberries, yes! Like we had for snack!" We had blueberries for snack the day before, that we had bought from the farmers market and I had been encouraging him to say the word. We've been working on the "b" sound. I showed him how to pick a berry and put it in the bright orange pail we had brought. After a few tries, he figured out that we were just picking the berries that were blue, and leaving the green ones on the bushes.

This was wonderful "hidden" therapy for him. Jonah's therapists have been giving me ideas for things I can do with him in everyday setting, that will enforce what we are doing in our sessions. Blueberry picking turned out to be a perfect hidden therapy! We worked on physical therapy, because he had to learn to navigate the soft dirt between the bushes. Occupational therapy was worked on by working his fine motor skills to pick individual berries and placing them successfully in the pail. His motor planning skills were honed as he had to figure out which berries were ripe, pick it, and then find his way back to me and the pail. And of course, we had sensory integration too, as he continuously popped berries into his mouth.

I was most impressed though, with how vocal he was. The whole time, he ran from bush to bush, shouting "Bew bee! Bew Bee!!! Bew Bee, yeah! mum mum mum.. mmmm!" He has since altered the way he says blueberry, and now it is closer to "Bew Blay"

Together, Jonah, Mother-in-law, and I picked ten quarts of berries. Erie Orchards isn't 100% organic and pesticide free, but they do not use pesticides during the four months before picking season. We are planning on going to another organic farm this week, not because we need more blueberries, but because it was such a good experience for Jonah.

And of course when we got home, it was dinner time. What better dinner after such an activity than blueberry pancakes. The whole family loved every bite!

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