ASN Focus: Parachuting to Success

How fun approaches to parachute activities can help with sensory

development and exploration of PE Benchmarks

Dominic Tollan

While pupils always seem to fill with excitment whenever the  multi-coloured piece of fabric call ‘the parachute’ is unfurled from the storage cupboard, the true value of parachute games in Physical Education is sometimes overlooked, especially in the ASN sector.  More meaningful than merely a ‘filler’ or ‘fun’ activity, the inclusivisity and sensory aspects of parachute games can offer a valuable experience for pupils in an ASN class and help them work towards achieving a range of PE benchmarks.  Here are just a few examples of some of the benefits the parachute has to offer.

Personal Qualities

The fun and excitment and variety of parachute games can provide added motivation for pupils to take part in meaningful physical activity.  Self awareness can be developed through call and respond games where pupils are asked to run under the parachute based on, for example a certain hair colour or colour of shoes, if they have a pet or a brother or sister.  Confidence and communication can be developed by introducing life guards during ‘shark attack’.  Participants are ecouraged to be loud and vocal in shouting for help!, with life guards given added responsibility to look, listen and try and save anyone caught by the shark. Determination is often shown by pupils during a game of ‘Popcorn’ when trying to shake every last ball from the parachute, or when trying to work as part of a team to shake a big ball past the opposing side and off the parachute to win a point.  Of course, all of these games require respect and tolerance of the rules, and of fair play towards others.  Pupils can also demonstrate determination and resilience through different chasing challenges – have you ever tried to crawl under a moving parachute, trying to escape a chasing cat? 

Physical Competencies

 With our young participants having to grip and hold on to the handle or a coloured edge, fine motor skills are being developed even before the larger, ‘gross motor’ skills are required to shake, pull and lift the parachute.  Pupils demonstrate balance and control as they have to steady themselves while standing up (or even sitting down!) and shake and lift the parachute at the same time.  Creating big or small waves just won’t happen without the co-ordination and fluency of controlled shakes of the parachute and rhythm and timing are just as important to make sure that the class works together to lift up and pull down the parachute to create big gusts of wind, adding to the sensory experience.  Kinaesthetic awareness is challenged during games like ‘Cat and Mouse’ and ‘Shark Attack’ where pupils have to be aware of their surroundings when crawling under or on top of the parachute to escape the wily cat, find the hidden ‘rodent’ or to find an unsuspecting ‘victim’ in shark attack before dragging them under or stealing their shoes!

Cognitive Skills

Problem solving occurs in call and respond games where pupils are asked to change places based on various commands, including hair colour, do they have a pet, what colour of shoes they are wearing or what they had for breakfast.  Focus & concentration is definitely needed in all parachute games but none more so than when everyone in the class is trying to see how many times they can roll a large ball around the parachute by moving it up and down.  One wrong move, the ball falls and everyone has to start again!  In doing so, pupils have to use their decision making when choosing to lift  or lower the parachute to ensure the ball is given the best path to continue.

Physical Fitness

Flexibility can be worked on as part of initial warm up activities by asking pupils to crouch and then stretch up tall whilst holding the parachute. Parachute activities can certainly be very active, with many support assistants commenting on how toned their arms feel after a few rounds of games like ‘Popcorn’ – a game where multiple sponge balls are places on the parachute, with the aim of the game to shake them off as quickly as possible.  A fun activity that can help add to stamina, core stability & strength.  A great workout!  Pupils can work on their speed by having to move under the parachute quickly when given commands to change places under the parachute: don’t be last! 

Heightening the Senses

Parachute activities are extremely inclusive, and allow all pupils to feel involved, even if they are unable to fully participate.  The sight of bright colours and changing shapes of the parachute can provide both a stiumlating and relaxing visual experience for pupils, while the soft rippling sounds can again provide a calming environment for pupils. This can be enhanced by playing music or a calming CD in the background.  Those who can touch and grip the parachute are able to access the physical sensation of the parachute moving, pushing and pulling, while the breeze of the parachute can offer an alternative, relaxing experience for all. Having the opportunity to lie on or under the parachute can further enhance the sensory and kinaesthetic experience, and help to include pupils, including those in wheelchairs or with other movement difficulties. 

Conclusion

The ‘Parachute’ offers inclusive, sensory activities for pupils with additional support needs.  For those with physical or sensory challenges, the range of games ensures that they are still able to participate with or without support.  The bright colours, large movements and ‘breezy sensation’ of the parachute ensures that those with visual impairments are still able to ‘feel’ that they are part of the lesson.  The biggest clue that parachute games were destined to develop the PE benchmarks?  The similarity in colours between the PE ‘Wheel’ and the brightly coloured, wonderfully versatile piece of fabric that everyone loves to showcase, but is always a challenge to put away! Real parachutes may make you think of people plummeting, but the parachute we all know and love from our own time at school will provides us with countless games and opportunities to raise the enjoyment and attainment of pupils of all ages and abilities.  Don’t take it for granted!