It’s difficult thinking up new ways to keep children interested, stimulated and occupied day-to-day. In fact, the same can be said for all cognitive beings. Preventing boredom in children, adults and even animals can reduce stereotypic behaviors (such as nail-biting, hair-twirling and pacing) and have profoundly positive effects on their quality of life. By introducing new stimuli, you are providing a person or pet with an interesting, and sometimes challenging distraction.
Smartphones are a great example of a successful enrichment item. Unlike a landline, smartphones provide hours of entertainment and distraction over different platforms, stimulating our minds and enriching our lives. Another example of a successful enrichment item is coloring books, which provide hours of activity, rather than just flipping through plain picture books.
This blog post will help you become an enrichment expert by repurposing items, inventing new activities, and making the familiar more challenging.
Repurposing and Recycling
An enriching item only needs to be interesting, not expensive. Having limited funds and limitless imagination has led to some of the most successful enrichment items. A cardboard box is one of the most versatile objects for creating amazing enrichment for both humans and animals. A mother created an inexpensive custom play kitchen for her daughter using boxes, paint and her existing toys.
Many cat owners have been able to master enrichment-making by repurposing boxes as well. Repurposing something as flexible and inexpensive as a cardboard box is an opportunity for infinite ideas. This approach to developing enrichment has also been perfected by many zoos and aquariums to keep animals curious, entertained and active. A pair of Komodo dragons (Varanus komodoensis) at the Woodland Park Zoo, for example, were observed being inactive most of the day without any enrichment. Over the course of three months, the Komodo dragons, named “Loki” and “Selat,” were exposed to three enrichment items: 1. A food item buried in the ground, 2. A scented trail, and 3. A large ball.
These enrichment items were nothing new, but just their food presented in a new way, or a toy that was removed and then later returned to them. By presenting the ball and food items in new ways (such as burying the ball instead of laying it on top of the ground), animal keepers repurposed and recycled regular items to make them more enriching. At the end of the study, animal behaviorists witnessed the dragons’ activity levels up 27% with an increase of 11 natural behaviors not observed previously.
Have you noticed that some toys just appear more fun when they are in the bathtub rather than on the living room floor? Sometimes playing with the same toys in a different context makes them appear brand new.
Create and Invent
When deciding what will be a successful enrichment item, consider who you are making it for. A room with music, mirrors and lots of people may not be appropriate for a person or animal that is susceptible to sensory overload. Customize an item or activity to the recipient so they will truly enjoy it. Careful consideration is especially important when creating enrichment for those with special needs, who may be more sensitive to certain stimuli than others.
A sensory area confined to wall or pathway can be created with limited time and funds, while being safe, interesting and fun for all. It can cater to a person’s senses to touch, taste, see, hear and smell. How does a cat behave after it’s smelled catnip? How do you feel when you smell your favorite foods cooking during the holidays? Challenge your senses by experimenting with different enrichment ideas. What would a sensory area look like that focused only a person’s sight?
Sometimes all an enrichment activity needs is a wild imagination. Inventing a new game with a child who loves board games will likely create hours of entertainment. What is the game’s theme, characters, rules, and how do you win? Try inventing a new language, way to tell time, or holiday to celebrate at home. For adults, try inventing a new cocktail! The process of creating a successful enrichment idea can be enriching in itself!
Challenging the Familiar
Take the mundane and make it exciting! Fill your room with an exotic-scented candle, listen to your favorite songs in another language, watch a remake of a familiar movie, try eating dinner in the dark, or get crafty at mealtime. Take what you know and change it for an enriching experience. The book, “Green Eggs and Ham” by Dr. Seuss challenges readers to imagine eating a typical breakfast presented in a strange new way. Instead of eating something the same way every time, try eating it in a way that is more challenging. This is a favorite method amongst animal caretakers when it comes to feeding.
Puzzle feeders for almost all animals are available and are easy to make at home. This discourages animals from eating too quickly, and promotes problem-solving and exercise for an extended period of time. In regard to humans, bobbing for apples and opening piñatas are challenges that make gathering food a little more challenging and fun than just eating off a plate. Think about how something in your everyday life can be done in a different way. Perhaps you should take a different route to school or work, order a different type of coffee or listen to a different radio station. You may find that you like doing things differently from now on!
There are endless ideas and activities when it comes to enriching the lives of you and your loved ones. Chances are that you’ve been doing it all along and didn’t realize it- or it’s possibilities. By implementing enrichment, you challenge your own thought process, and create opportunities for learning, problem-solving and curiosity. This can reduce behavioral issues and stereotypic behaviors in both animals, children and adults. Tiring a child or beloved pet during the day with engaging activities can result in less restless evening behavior and more rem sleep. Building a fort made of repurposed cardboard promotes teamwork, encourages imagination and provides a lot of fun. By challenging your mind to create entertaining enrichment, we create an environment that we can all benefit from.