Multi-sensory Learning

We all receive information about our world through our ‘senses’ – sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste, as well as movement and body position. We receive information through our senses and our brain ‘processes’ or makes ‘sense’ of this information to help us understand and learn about the world around us and to enable us to respond and behave for survival and everyday living. All of our senses can be utilized to facilitate learning. Educators, therapists and parents have recognised that the children, in particular, respond well to learning by receiving information through multiple senses, rather than just through the most commonly used ‘channels’ or methods of hearing and seeing.  This approach to teaching is known as ‘multi-sensory learning’.  Multi-sensory learning involves tapping into the different sensory ‘channels’ simultaneously and providing information through hearing and seeing and also through modalities such as touching and moving and smelling and tasting. Multi-sensory learning also allows for individuals’ particular sensory and learning strengths to be utilised. For example, some children may be better ‘visual’ learners and like seeing things whilst others may be ‘auditory’ learners and prefer to listen and hear information. Others may be ‘kinesthetic’ or moving learners and prefer to move their bodies and ‘do’ things to learn.  The ideal is to provide information and new learning through multiple channels so that the information is presented in different ways.  Children learn best using a combination of these sensory ‘channels’ as the information will be received and reinforced through the various sensory modalities.

Here are some simple examples -

1. Learning letters and numbers –

- the child needs to learn both the shape and the sound of the letter/number

- make the shape using finger tips in sand – experience the ‘feel’ of the shape

- cut the shape from sandpaper or other textured paper – again to feel the shape

- use letter/number outlines to trace – uses visual and movement

- use green and red dots to mark where the shape starts and ends – a good visual

- make the letter/number from playdough or clay – uses touch and movement

- use the whole body to form the shape (both standing and lying on the floor) – movement

- form the letter/number from a rope which children crawl along – movement

- link the shape with the sound – seeing and hearing are linked

- find pictures of items starting with the letter – again link the visual with the sound

 Pam blog

2. Literacy activities –

- read the story/book first

- take time to look at and talk about the colourful pictures

- act out the story

- use puppets, action toys and dress ups to recreate part or all of the story

- build props or make an item from the story

- do a drawing based on the content of the story

- make a model/diorama based on the story

pam blog 1

3. Learning numeracy concepts -

- hear the concept

- use concrete materials to see and understand the concept

       eg. blocks, counters, ice block sticks

             fold or cut shapes from paper to reinforce fractions

             cups and water or sand to understand volume

             scales to understand weight

             paper/cardboard ‘nets’ for 3D shapes

- colour code items – eg. coloured blocks, Cuisenaire rodspam blog 3

4. Science related activities –  eg. a topic about trees in nature

- read about the topic

- look at pictures

- go outside and explore the environment

- feel and collect different textured objects eg. leaves, bark, dirt, rocks

-  explore vocabulary to describe items

- use word webs to write down words

- take off shoes and feel the grass and twigs under the feet

- make an art type collage with collected items

- make a poster with collected items

- compare colours and textures and size of items

- cut out similar shapes from paper/card

- smell different leaves/bark

- watch a plant growpam blog 4

5. Geography related activities –

- read a book about a country

- talk about and describe the pictures

- cut out and glue pictures to make a poster about the country

- colour the flag from the country

- draw a map of the country

- cook a dish from the country – smell and taste the food

- dress up like a person from that country

Multisensory learning is not a new concept. When children play they naturally seek out experiences which engage all of their senses.  Teachers and therapists are adept at using multiple senses to reinforce information and to help children learn.  It is a simple technique to help individuals explore, process, understand the world around and to help retain new information and concepts.

  Pam McDonald Occupational Therapist Let’s Talk Developmental Hub

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