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Home beach.

When I was growing up, my mom would tell us that we were going on a vacation to "Home Beach." This meant that there would not be a car trip to a vacation spot but that we would have a special time just being at home. We would run under the sprinklers or pretend to lie on the beach. She might even move lunch outside like a beach picnic.

During the past winter, I was browsing through a catalog and stumbled upon the White Tower section. This concept, developed by Ad Verheul at the Hartenburg Institute, involves designing and constructing "dynamically reacting environments for multisensory stimulation." These custom-built physical environments include the following types of sensory stimulating options: tactile wall boards, sniff boxes, switches, special effects projectors, fiber optics, bubble columns and sound effects. Although this concept is quite fascinating, there were several obstacles to developing a White Tower Room in the classroom, but empty rooms are always in demand in growing elementary schools. And, during a year of cutbacks, funding was a major issue.

What happened on a hot day in June was a merger of these two concepts -Home Beach and White Tower. We had a beach party at River Oaks Elementary School at the "River Oaks Private Beach." Field trips were quite a headache with my particular group of students due to special transportation needs, a lack of volunteers and hot bus or an annoying pollen count. We would be taking a trip to Home Beach, in a manner of speaking.

As the weeks went by, the idea blossomed into a major event. We sent special beach party invitations home with the students to welcome their parents and siblings to the party. The afternoon before the party, the gym was transformed into the River Oaks Private Beach. Several blue mats were transformed into an ocean complete with floats and a switch-activated surf. The beachfront was extensive. It was possible to play in the sand or water table. For those who enjoy strolling down the boardwalk, ours was a musical Footnotes Piano. Since most beaches have artists, we had an art corner where the students could air brush beach stencil pictures using a ColorBlaster[TM].

The beach stimulated the senses of all adults and children who entered. The children could activate a pressure switch to hear the ocean roar and the sounds of sea gulls. The piano boardwalk could be activated by walking or rolling on it. The children could gaze at colorful sailboats and fish nets while lying in inner tubes (to provide some vestibular stimulation in a supported position) or sitting in the relaxed comfort of bath chairs, which were great substitutes for lounge chairs. The water and sand tables provided opportunities for varying degrees of tactile stimulation. Although bathing suits were not permitted, everyone wore beach apparel -- shorts, T-shirts, cut-off jeans, sundresses, etc.

Of course, we could not forget the "tunes." Our primary music selection was naturally The Beach Boys Greatest Hits. The music was upbeat and quickly put all the adults -- parents and staff -- into the party spirit.

Party On!

The beach was designed to contain elements to motivate all of the students, regardless of their functioning level. Each student could have an impact on some element of the beach as well as obtain enjoyment and satisfaction for their efforts.

A staff member performed the role of roving beach photographer. We used a Polaroid[TM] camera and displayed the pictures on an art easel as they were developing. It is amazing how attentive the students are to PolaroidTM] pictures. The memory of the event is still fresh in their minds when they view the picture. Both the staff and students were instantly gratified with the visual memory of the event.

We chose to take our trip in the morning of an early release day. The children had approximately two hours at the beach, then returned to the classroom for a special beach lunch. While the students were playing at the beach, a staff member, assisted by two of our buddies from the fourth grade, assembled the special lunch. The chosen foods lent themselves easily to our varied dietary and oral motor needs. The foods were served cold or were microwavable so we did not need access to the school kitchen. The children enjoyed fish sticks, stuffed clams, cole slaw, chips, veggies, chilled popcorn shrimp, watermelon, fruit shakes and ice cream pie for dessert. As a special treat, we invited buddies from the fourth grade to share our dessert.

After lunch, the children either went home with their parents or boarded the bus to return home. Timing can mean the difference between a fun activity and over-stimulation leading to sensory overload. Holding the beach party on a half-day provided us with a suitable time frame -- the children had to be ready to leave at a specific time. Since the children leave two hours before the staff on early release days, we had plenty of time to return the beach to a gym after the students left. Clean-up, therefore, did not infringe upon exploration time.

Funding for this event was not an issue. Most of the equipment we used was already part of our classroom stock. The pictures used to create the beach atmosphere were taken from wallpaper sample books. Since we would be preparing lunch for both the students and their families, each family was asked to send in $4.50 to cover the cost of the beach food. The extra lounge chairs, towels, beach balls, etc. were borrowed from staff members for the day. (See Home Beach Materials for a list of suggested equipment.)

The River Oaks Private Beach Party was an awesome success. The staff and parents have already decided this should be an annual event. One of the unexpected rewards of the event was the change in attitude of the support staff in the building. They were mesmerized by the children's actions on the beach. Many times these individuals only see the children in their wheelchairs, traveling quietly or not so calmly throughout the school. Their quiet observations of the students freely exploring the beach activities gave them a little insight into who the children really are.

Deborah R. Stachkunas is a special education teacher and a single parent. She lives in Dale City, Va., with her children Thomas, 16, and Trae, 4 months. Her daughter, Jacqueline, passed away last April of medical complications associated with 18q-. Both Thomas, who has cerebral palsy, and Jacqueline, were adopted and Trae is currently in long-term foster care with Stachkunas.
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Title Annotation:creating a beach environment for handicapped children to enjoy
Author:Stachkunas, Deborah R.
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Date:Jun 1, 1993
Previous Article:1992 Summer Program Awards.
Next Article:Selecting a seating system.

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