Literacy Tent

Designers: Russell Blaise and Marie Schroeder
Client Coordinators: Luanne Holland and Joanna Clark, Durham County Schools
Supervising Professor: Dr. Larry N. Bohs

Research has indicated that inclusion is an effective method to educate children with disabilities.  The Literacy Tent provides a literature-based, inclusive environment for use in the Durham County Schools.  The tent includes a series of multi-sensory stimuli corresponding with a book’s text, making the book accessible to both children with and without disabilities.  A series of stimuli are mounted to the frame of the enclosure, for use with any book.  For individual books adapted for tent use, book kits with specific stimuli are provided.  The Literacy Tent provides opportunities for learning on many levels, from literacy to cause and effect to basic socialization.

How this project helped
The literacy tent will be an enjoyable and educational asset available to the educators in the Durham County Public Schools. At Parkwood Elementary School in Durham County, one of our supervisors Luanne Holland hopes to establish a lend-out procedure for tent use in regular and special education classrooms.  “I hope to put up a sign up sheet to lend out the tent to any teacher who wants it for a few weeks at a time,” said Luanne.  “They could set up a literacy area around the tent.  We’ll put a few beanbag chairs on the floor and allot the area as a place for students to go and read.  Then I can bring my students, and we can bring regular and special education students to the tent, set up the stimuli, and read an adapted book together.”

The Literacy Tent (Figure 1) includes three parts: a tent structure, a sensory environment, and kits containing stimuli tailored to specific books.

The tent structure is constructed from 1¼” furniture grade PVC, connected in a 5′ x 5′ x 5′ cube, with a 2.5′ high peak added to the roof. For portability, the frame fittings allow the cube walls to fold to the back and create a 5′ x 5′ vertical square.  The frame can be completely assembled or disassembled in 5 minutes, and unfolded or put into storage in 1 minute.  The structure’s walls are made of fabric, affixed by industrial strength Velcro.  The outer walls feature pockets sewn into the fabric, 2.5′ off the ground, 6″ wide and 4 to a side, to provide storage for stimuli not being used.  The tent structure stores in a 6’x1’ ski bag.

The sensory environment consists of switches and switch-activated stimuli.  The stimuli are generic in nature, so they can be incorporated into the reading of various books.   Four custom switches were built to activate a tape recorder, a bubble machine, a fan, an aromatic fan, and Christmas lights.  These switches were built by removing the light bulbs from push-on lights and providing 1/8″ output jacks for controlling the stimuli.  All switches and sensory devices are mounted to the tent structure with industrial strength Velcro.  The switch-activated tape recorder plays a book recording via a latch or timer mechanism.

Three book kits were developed; each provides smaller, specific stimuli to reinforce subjects in a given book. Each kit contains a tape of the book to be read, a laminated copy of the book, a curtain 2′ in length, made of book-themed fabrics, and book-specific stimuli.  For the adapted book On Halloween Night, the curtain was created from two Halloween-print fabrics, and stimuli include parts of a witch’s costume, a bell, pumpkin scent, and chocolate candy.  The kits for the books In the Tall, Tall Grass and Looking Great follow the same concept.

The cost of parts for the Literacy Tent was approximately $800.

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