Advice Column, Toddler, Toptots

Why does Toptots have a parachute programme?

Many parents wonder why we persist with parachute activities in our classes when some children obviously don’t like it.  I am sure many of you have heard the term sensory integration bantered around at mom’s gatherings and parties?

Sensory integration refers to how people use the information provided by all the sensations coming from within the body and from the external environment. We usually think of the senses as separate channels of information, but they actually work together to give us a reliable picture of the world and our place in it. Your senses integrate to form a complete understanding of who you are, where you are, and what is happening around you. Because your brain uses information about sights, sounds, textures, smells, tastes, and movement in an organised way, you assign meaning to your sensory experiences, and you know when to react or when not to react.  

If you currently live in a quiet area and then you buy a new house and move into a busy neighbourhood, at first you are going to find it difficult to sleep. The noise will be a distraction. After a few weeks your brain registers that it does not have to pay attention to what’s happening and you don’t hear the sound any more.  A friend might come and visit and she might ask how you cope with the busy street sounds. This reminds you that the sounds are there. You “integrated” the sounds and now that they are harmless and you do not have to pay attention to them.  

Relate this to all the senses in a class environment. Little Johnny is having a problem integrating his senses and this is distracting him from learning. The teacher in the next classroom is shouting at her class – he hears it and starts to pay attention to this.   His mom forgot to cut the label from his shirt and this is scratching his neck, after an hour or so that’s all he can think about. The bright lights glare down on his page and hurt his eyes and there is an offensive smell coming from one of the desks where a sandwich was left last week.  I am really painting a bleak picture here but this is what some children experience.

Our parachute programme incorporates many sensory experiences.

  • Visual – all the bright colours of the parachute and the movement
  • Auditory – the rustle of the chute and the music
  • Near senses – movement and balance when on the parachute 
  • Tactile – the feel of the parachute in their hand and having all the other children on the chute.

As sensory processing skills mature, vital pathways in the nervous system get refined and strengthened, and children get better at handling life’s challenges. 

The parachute also offers opportunity to stimulate:

  • Social interaction – our toddlers play alongside each other till about the age of 3 and the parachute encourages them to work together.
  • Develops a sense of rhythm- up down etc.
  • Language development- it requires them to follow instructions
  • Strengthens upper torso
  • Refines perceptual skills

So now you know why this is an important part of our programme but how do we keep your little one on it?  

Some children take to it straight away and are happy to sit and shake it and then happily sit on it and even under it. Others fuss from day one.  I recommend that you “ask” by placing the child on the parachute every week. If they say NO by fussing take them off.  Let them watch. Move around with them while the others are on the parachute.  It is important that you try every week as one day they will just decide to happily participate.

The other problem is the child that has been sitting happily for months and then decides he doesn’t like it anymore.  The same rule applies – keep trying.  You must remember if they don’t feel well or are tired they will not want to do this activity as it stimulates all the senses and can be very overpowering.

Most of all relax and enjoy it with your child, it’s just one of many activities at Toptots that stimulates the senses. If your child refuses the parachute make sure he takes part in the other activities.

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