We’ve been somewhat strategic about the children’s TV shows JB watches. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have any problems with screen time; I just don’t want him knowing who Caillou or Peppa Pig is, out of fear that he’ll start wanting to watch them and I’ll have to listen to them. Better to stick with nostalgic favorites: Muppet Babies, Mister Rogers’s Neighborhood, and Sesame Street. (Some may call this selfish, but I call it self-preservation.) There’s one newer show, however, that JB can’t get enough of – Splash and Bubbles – and as a result, he’s completely, utterly fascinated with ocean life. Latching on to his love of all things underwater, our family recently took a day trip to Boston’s New England Aquarium.
Before heading to the aquarium, we did a bit of research about what to expect. Is the aquarium handicapped accessible? Could we bring his stroller and feeding pump? Would there be quiet places to take a break if JB was getting overstimulated? The answer to all of these questions, luckily, was a resounding yes! I cannot emphasize enough how impressed I was by the New England Aquarium’s attention to detail regarding accessibility and inclusion.
When we arrived, we were able to borrow a free sensory kit from KultureCity, filled with fidget toys, noise-cancelling headphones, some picture communication cards, and other helpful items. We didn’t end up using the kit, but knowing it was there if we needed it was a huge relief.
Regarding wheelchair accessibility, I was pleasantly surprised by how much JB could see and experience from his seat. Many parks and museums have guardrails placed right at JB’s eye level, making it hard for him to see or interact with the attraction. The focal point of the New England aquarium, however, is a central tank extending four floors tall, with floor to ceiling viewing windows, and a ramp spiraling around it. As a result, you can see the animals (and occasional scuba divers) from almost any angle. Even better, JB was able to get very close to the glass, immersing him in the experience.
In one of my favorite moments of the entire visit, a sea turtle swam right up to the glass, and JB started smiling and waving. JB then began making a “muh-muh-muh” sound and signing “more, more, more!” It was an interaction I’ll never forget.
(I could make some type of joke about how this turtle helped JB come out of his shell, but I’m too mature for that kind of nonsense.)
JB had another memorable animal encounter at the Edge of the Sea Touch Tank. An aquarium guide, seeing JB in his wheelchair unable to reach the tank, brought a hermit crab in a small container over to him, so JB would be able to see and touch the crab like the other visitors. It was probably just a small moment for the employee, but this inclusion meant the world to us, and to JB.
Before we left the aquarium, we obviously had to visit the gift shop. (I’m a firm believer that it isn’t an actual museum/zoo/aquarium/theme park visit unless you visit the gift shop.)
“We are not buying him another toy today, no matter what,” I vowed all morning, citing the mountains of toys already taking over our home.
My husband and sister both smiled, knowing I would never actually uphold this promise. Sure enough, we ended our visit with a brand-new “wildlife rescue kit,” basically a doctor’s kit and a stuffed animal (JB chose a sea lion) inside a cute little pet carrier. I have to admit, though, it was a smart purchase – he plays with it almost every day. So look out, we may have a future veterinarian on our hands!
One way we’ve been encouraging JB’s “under the sea” interest is through picture books. Here are some of our family’s favorites:
- An Anthology of Intriguing Animals: This book ticks off boxes for everyone in our home. Gorgeous book design inside and out (for me)? Check! Interesting animal facts (for my science teacher husband)? Check! Cool photos of animals both underwater and on land (for JB)? Check!
- Manfish: If you had told me pre-parenthood that one day I’d list a biography of Jacques Cousteau as one of my favorite children’s books, I would have called you crazy. But this book is so breathtakingly beautiful, I would willingly hang up the pages as artwork around my home.
(There are Bookshop.org affiliate links in the above post.)