Multi-sensory learning. It’s a concept of which few people are familiar. For many years, classrooms were structured in a way that involved only one or two senses. Teachers taught mostly through lecture. Students listened (auditory). Sometimes, they used their vision to learn, like when the teacher wrote on the blackboard or showed a film. Other senses were rarely ever even considered.
But over the last few decades, research has shown that students learn best when multiple pathways of the brain are engaged at the same time. This new knowledge has led to a change in both teaching strategies and the way we help children grow cognitively.
Deep learning involves neuronal networks. Neuronal chains (also known as neuronal networks) are linked cells that allow the body and brain to communicate. Multiple stimulation of senses enhances learning outcomes because neuronal chains in the brain form faster when all senses are used. This is why sensory and unstructured play are both so important for learning. Our senses include:Vestibular (balance/movement)Somatic sensation (touch)Gustatory (taste)Olfaction (smell)Vision (sight)Auditory (hearing)
According to learning specialists, there are actually 12 ways of learning!
They include visual, auditory, tactile, kinesthetic, sequential simultaneous, reflective/logical, verbal, interactive, direct experience, indirect experience and rhythmic/melodic.
Using strategies that include as many of these as possible makes deep learning much more likely to happen.
Many people do not understand the ‘neuroscience’ behind the way that people learn. Recent research suggests that:
1. The stronger our neurons (connecting cells) are, the better we remember information.
2. Each person has an individual learning style that uses a mix of the five sense.
3. Multi-sensory teaching catches and keeps learners attention in a way that other strategies do not.
Multi-sensory teaching it isn’t always easy. Standing in front of a whiteboard talking or playing a movie is much simpler than coming up with a hands-on lesson that uses every sense our body has.
Still, the outcome is so worth it and our children, students, and future nation will thank us for it.
Multisensory teaching is effective for all students. It is especially helpful for children with learning disabilities, including Dyslexia and ADHD, since it doesn’t focus just on the visual.
So, if multi-sensory teaching works so well, why aren’t all teachers using these strategies? There are a few reasons. One, most educators teach the way that they were taught. The same is true of parents. When trying to show our children how to do something or help them with homework, we fall back to ‘tried and true’ methods of our childhood, even if they don’t really work. Because we don’t know better, we don’t do better.
There is no magical formula when it comes to multi-sensory learning. There are, however, two main teaching techniques:The Orton Gilliam Based ApproachMontessori Education
If you’re wanting a deep understanding of teaching using all of the senses, you might consider researching these approaches.
Otherwise you can try to involve as many senses as possible. Here’s an example of how this works:
Lauren, a mother and teacher was having trouble helping her six year old son, Jordan, learn his ‘sight words.’ She tried the traditional flashcards, but Jordan couldn’t seem to remember the words. His teacher mentioned trying a multi-sensory approach. The following activities helped Jordan learn his words in no time.Tactile Letter Writing- Have children use their fingers and sand, salt, shaving cream, or other substances to trace sight words. Playdoh and magnetic letters are also good options.
Sight Word Towers- Write letters on red Solo cups. Have your child stack the letters to make words or word chains.
Bounce Ball Sight Words- Children can do this activity together or alone. Having children bounce or pass the ball while saying letters or syllables out loud.
Sight Word Exercises- As each letter of the sight word is said out loud, have the kids do jumping jacks, toe-touches, or other exercise moves.
Alphabet Food- Involving taste can be fun. Spaghetti noodles, cheese, and other foods can be used to form sight words.
Body Word Chants- Chanting sight word letters while moving the body to make letter shapes is a great kinesthetic option.
The activities above can be altered to fit various subject areas.
Other options include:Diagrams, movies, or chartsListening to a story or debateHands-on- activities such as building dioramasRole-playing, performing skitsMaking recipes or breaking info into stepsCreating concept maps/websReflecting in a journal after a lessonGroup discussionsConducting experimentsMaking up songs, writing poetry
If you don’t have time to map out lots of activities for your children that does not mean that multisensory learning can’t be a part of their daily routines. Just having time to play is one of the best ways for children to access all of their senses. It is also calming, improves fine motor skills, concentration, memory and many other important skills.
Since children are naturally curious about their world, the process of encouraging sensory play isn’t a difficult one. For example, when playing outside, you can encourage children to touch flowers, smell them, look at the petals, and listen for any sounds that buzzing bees nearby might be making. Sensory bins with beans and other ‘touchy feely items’ are simple to make. Messy play with soap and goop are also good multi-sensory options.
When offering multi-sensory opportunities, you’ll find that children not only learn better but also have a lot more fun!
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