Sensory Umbrellas

The key element of working in the classroom is finding an appropriate environment to work in and the course will examine all the options in detail. This short article is going to have a look at one successful and very popular approach. The use of umbrellas and parasols. 

As successful practioners in education we will have bright, colourful, stimulating and busy classrooms, fantastic for general stimulation but very distracting when we want to work with individuals. For sensory work we need is to focus the child’s senses upon the stimuli we are presenting.  In the general classroom there is too much going on and other adults and pupils 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 class room and the humble umbrella, cheaply bought, provides a simple way of screening of achieving that. It can also act as a screen for projection and we can hang artefacts from the spokes for the child 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 child with physical challenging behaviours. Used with supervision, however, they offer many advantages. They are easily stored, quick to put up. A black umbrella provides a dark background to present brightly coloured or battery operated lighting effects against. The contrast between dark and light exaggerates the stimuli and can improve the child’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. Scoobie strings at around £2.00 a pack provide good fluorescent materials to hang from the spokes. 

Literacy work can be introduced hanging artefacts linked to a particular story or numeracy work by hanging various shapes 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 child to access images even in a brightly lit classroom. A child 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 for some examples of umbrellas in use and 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.

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