The key element of working in the classroom is finding an appropriate environment to work in. This article is going to have a look at one successful and very popular approach – the use of umbrellas and parasols.
As successful practitioners in education we will have bright, colourful, stimulating and busy classrooms, fantastic for general stimulation but very distracting when we want to work with individual learners. For sensory work we need to focus the learner’s senses upon the stimuli we are presenting. In the general classroom there is too much going on and other adults and learners moving around causing distractions.
Do you remember the older style prams, with hoods and some sort of mobile strung across the front? Without understanding or appreciating the psychology, people had automatically provided a safe environment where all the stimuli came from a predictable direction. This reduces anxiety and decreases stress caused by the child worrying about noises and movement that he or she can’t see.
We need something similar in the classroom and the humble umbrella, cheaply bought, provides a simple way of achieving that. It can also act as a screen for projection and we can hang artefacts from the spokes for the learner to interact with.
A word of caution, however, in a typical classroom the use of an umbrella does require close supervision. Most umbrellas come with a pointed metal ferrule and the spokes are of a metal construction with plastic caps. There are potential dangers if they are used by a learner with physically challenging behaviours. However, used with supervision, they offer many advantages. They are easily stored and quick to put up.
A black umbrella provides a dark background for brightly coloured or battery-operated lighting effects. The contrast between dark and light exaggerates the stimuli and can improve the learner’s locating, tracking and reaching skills. Hang fluorescent materials from the spokes and light them up with UV blacklight from a handheld torch to increase the power of the visual effect. The range of fluorescent objects is endless; body scrubs have good tactile properties, and Scoobie strings (at around £2.00 a pack) provide good fluorescent materials to hang from the spokes.
Literacy work can be introduced by using artefacts linked to a particular story, or numeracy work by hanging various shapes or groups of similar objects to count and handle.
White umbrellas can be used for projection. Placing the projector behind the umbrella and back projecting through the material allows the learner to access images, even in a brightly lit classroom. A learner with poor visual skills can be given the opportunity to focus on bright moving and meaningful images without the distractions of the classroom.
Have a look at the Hirstwood Training’s Facebook site http://www.facebook.com/HirstwoodTraining for some examples of umbrellas in use. If you have any favourite and useful examples, take a photo and place them on the Facebook site; we would love to see them and share them with everyone else.