Teach Through Toys: Parachutes

Teach Through Toys: Parachutes

Age level: Preschool, Early Elementary
Description: I still remember how excited I would be when the teacher brought out a parachute during elementary school. Even now, I can’t exactly identify what it is about a parachute that draws children in, but I have found that it almost always works even for my most difficult to motivate students.
Skills & Modifications: There are many things you can do with a parachute. I’ve listed a few below, but if you have used it in other ways, please leave a comment explaining the activity!

  • Manding (Requesting) – I frequently use a parachute to have my early learners mand for actions. For example, I’ll have the learner lie down on the parachute, then they have to mand for me to “pick up the handle,” “swing,” ready set “go,” or “stop.” I also use the parachute (or a blanket) to teach early learners with autism how to request a parent’s attention. I will have the parent hide behind the parachute, and when the child says “Mommy” or “Daddy” the parent will drop the parachute so he/she is immediately visible and give the child lots of attention in the form of tickles, kisses, verbal praise, etc.
  • Comparisons/Adjectives – To help students understand the concept of big and little, I will have the children stand around the sides of the parachute holding onto it with their hands. I will place an object on the parachute, and we will bounce the parachute up and down to try to get the object to fall into the hole in the center of the parachute. Some objects will fall, but some will be too big to fall into the hole. I will ask the students why the object fell or did not fall.
  • Sorting – I will place several colorful objects on the parachute. We will then bounce the parachute up and down playfully. After a 30 seconds to a minute, we will put the parachute back on the floor, and the student will have to move each object onto a panel of the parachute that matches in color.
  • Identifying body parts – Because the parachute has a hole in the middle, I will sometimes use it for identifying body parts. The learner can lie down on the floor. Then I will put the parachute on top of them. I’ll pretend I’m looking for them (for example, “Where is Charlie?”) Then I’ll position the parachute so that one part (such as their hand or their nose) is clearly visible. I’ll lightly touch it and say “What is that?” and have the student label nose or hand or elbow, etc. Once the learner has an idea of the game, I may let them initiate it, or have them say “Find my nose” and I’ll place the parachute so their nose is visible.
  • Song Fill-ins – I like to sing songs while shaking or spinning the parachute. For students with autism or other language delays who struggle with this skill, the parachute can be a great motivator to help with song fill-ins and other intraverbal skills. I will sing the song while shaking or spinning the parachute, and I’ll stop singing AND moving the parachute when I want the child to fill in a word. As soon as the child fills in the word, I will begin singing and moving the parachute again. For many students, this is more motivating than a high five or saying “good job.”
  • Quick Responding – If you are working with learners with autism, the absence of quick responding is sometimes a serious barrier to learning. I have found that using the parachute isa  good way to motivate the student to respond quickly when presented with at ask by using it as described above with the song fill-ins. Once I am getting quick responding with the parachute, I quickly begin to work on generalizing the skill to other environments (such as the table or during a floor activity.)

Pros: There is a wide variety of activities that you can do with a parachute. As mentioned before, my experience has been that it is a great tool for motivating students who are difficult to engage. The parachute is also fantastic as a reinforcer or to use during a break. It is fun for students to play hide-and-seek with it, lie on the floor and have you lift the parachute high into the air then bring it down on top of them, or spin it in a circle. One final pro is that, depending on the size of the parachute, you can do these activities indoors. I have a parachute that is six feet in diameter, which is perfect for indoor activities with preschool and early elementary learners.
Cons: You have to think carefully about the environment in which you will be using the parachute and choose the appropriate size. Many parachute activities also require more than two people, so if you are working 1:1 with students, you should prepare ahead of time to ensure that a sibling or parent will be available to participate in the activity with you.
Cost: $10 or more, depending on the size. Should I buy this? Yes.
ABLLS: A11, B18, C2, C15, C21, C24, F3, F4, F8, F14, G5, H1, H2
VB-MAPP: Mand 2, Mand 7, VP-MTS 7, Intraverbal 6, Mand 12, Tact 13

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