How to promote Multi-sensory Learning in home schooling and early years provisions
Multisensory learning is not an approach that you should give a try but an approach you should definitely be using on a daily basis whether it is your classroom/playroom or your child’s home/garden.
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Multi Sensory learning is one of the most effective approaches that facilitate learning process and it helps differentiate and personalize teaching and learning experiences, contexts and environments so that they appeal to children’s different learning needs and requirements. It can also be used to stimulate students with learning delays, disabilities and special needs.
What is a Multi-sensory Learning?
As the name suggests it is learning through engaging senses and in particular the sense of sight, hearing and touch but also taste and smell if possible. This method works really good with young children as this is exactly how they learn on their own but it can be easily used with all ages including teenagers. Basically it is how we all learn because we are sensory beings. If you observe children you will notice straight away that they need to touch things, they like colours and shapes, they are sensitive to rhythm and sounds.
The main idea behind Multi-sensory approach is to offer children environment filled with multi-sensory stimuli so that they can learn the way the naturally do.
Also, appealing to more than one sense at one time is more effective especially when you consider differences in individual learning styles. Some children may be more touchy-feely whilst other might prefer audio-visual stimulation. Satisfying the needs of all children will be possible if you appeal to all senses. Multi-sensory classroom/playroom or any learning environment will always be more exciting and motivating and will offer more meaningful learning contexts.
The approach however needs to be followed with caution as it is very easy, especially in the modern world, to overstimulate children which might in turn increase their anxiety, reduce their concentration span and create chaos in general.
One needs to be particularly careful working with children with special needs to make sure the multi-sensory stimulation does not trigger or aggravate certain medical conditions, for example related to epilepsy.
How to Introduce Multisensory learning
To begin with it might help to organise your learning according to the types of multisensory experiences.
Books and magazines
Aside course books, make sure your students/children have access to various types of magazines or books which you may use in many different ways.
For younger students organise reading corners, “pick your favourite book sessions”, make a book displays etc. Older children may browse magazines for recent news or trends and then report it back as presentations or organize visual displays.
Photographs and artwork
Having a nice collection of photographs and displaying visually intriguing pieces of artwork is a must for every teacher as it can boost activities such as story telling, close reading, listening and they can be easily used for any subjects. They stimulate students’ imagination and are particularly effective to promote cross curricular and cross cultural learning.
For home schooled children and for the early years working with images and using them to organized visual boards, dream boards, arts & crafts creative projects is a nice way to combine multi-sensory learning with cross-curricular and cross-cultural learning, inspire story telling or vocabulary games.
Look for good quality and attractive photographs and resources. They should be colorfull, clearly visible and full of interesting details that will encourage your students to look at them now and then. Wall displays can be interactive and used for activities such as reading, vocabulary work etc. so the more interesting and colorful the better. The best idea is to involve children in creating these boards and choosing images for them. This way you’ll appeal not only to vision but also to the sense of touch and will make the experience more personalized. Such activities easily inspire collaborative spirit, foster communication, open the door to discussions and story telling sessions.
Movies and cartoons
When used in moderation they can help introduce and explain certain topics, complex processes and provoke discussions. Make sure they do not substitute them for other resources. You may effectively use movie stills for brainstorming sessions, story telling etc. – just pause a movie on an interesting scene to encourage creativity.
Colours, shapes, patterns
No matter what kind of resources you decide to use whether it is toys, books or everyday objects make sure they are visually appealing. Introducing colours, shapes and patterns not only makes them more interesting to your students but also helps them remember things better.
Working with light is a very exciting way for children to learn and there is so many ways to incorporate light into your everyday learning spaces. You may use light tables and colorful blocks for creative work, you may organize dark rooms and use light for story telling, experimenting, guessing games. You may decorate the playroom/classroom with lights to add the element of extra fun and excitement. This works particularly well in reading corners, sensory tents, relaxation spaces. Light can become a permanent feature and part of your overall design to gently stimulate children every single day and appeal to their senses.
Music, sounds, audio books
Music and sounds can be used in lots of various ways to help you cover any content for any subject. You may introduce a topic by playing specific sounds and music to stimulate creativity, build interest, set the scene etc. Introducing multi sensory books, toys and resources that make sounds or play music will work great with younger audience while audio books, authentic audio recordings, interviews and songs prove to be more effective with older children. Make the content even more appealing by linking it with recent trends and your students’/children’s interests. Finally, playing relaxing background music during project time or group work will boost your students productivity and will help with classroom/behaviour/energy management.
Textures and shapes
Select resources, books, objects, fabrics that have interesting textures and shapes. No matter what subject and topic you are covering there is always something that you can bring with you to the table that can be symbolically or literally related to the content.
Have children examine the objects with their fingers to sense the texture, the material they are made of, their shape and size. They will also try to check how soft or hard an object is, whether it bends easily or not, if it has some decorations and whether there are some part of the object that can be dismantled, removed, opened or closed. Your students will naturally try all these ways so you need to make sure the objects they work with are not too precious and also if they are safe for your students to manipulate with.
Provide touchy-feely books for young children to enjoy, for all ages plan lots of hands-on experiments, organise outdoor sessions and introduce natural materials such as sand, wood, leaves, stone etc.
Apart from special and unique objects make sure the environment around is generally stimulating and can be explored by touch. If possible, have soft carpets on the floor, bean bags to sit on, fabrics to use for role-play, toys made of various materials such as wood, stone, foam, metal etc.
Turning your playroom/classroom walls into interactive and engaging displays can take the multi-sensory learning to the next level. It’s not about displays anymore but about using the wall as a working and creative space. If you decide to go for permanent installations make sure they are flexible enough to use them in many different ways. eg. magnetic boards to be used with magnetic blocks for creative play, story telling etc. or to be used to draw on.
In practice every experience is multi sensory and so there will always be more than one sense engaged. However, there is still strong tendency among teachers and parents to go for pen and paper activities since this is they way most of us were taught you need to make sure you understand how to take if much further. Shifting the percentage of learning environment from the dominant pen-paper to hands-on and experiential should be your main goal to make sure your children and your students are offered the most enabling environment to learn through their strengths and in the way they prefer most. Just check how easy it is to come up with super multi-sensory experiences!
These are very popular with children and easy to set up. Multi-sensory corners that appeal to all senses at one time allow children to immerse themselves in the magical world, relax, let go of energy and get creative. It’s a great idea to have one in your setting/playroom but apart from it you should make sure you offer variety of different experiences on a daily basis and not rely just on the sensory corner.
Apart from the above ideas try to occasionally offer experiences that appeal to the sense of smell and taste. The first one can be easily achieved during your hands-on experiments and outings (make sure the substances your students smell are safe) while the second during cooking sessions for example.
To introduce truly Multi-sensory learning and to promote Personalised Education download our FREE Workshop/Active Learning Scenario packed with ready to use ideas, pedagogy instructions and teacher’s guidelines. Perfect for enrichment workshops, summer/winter camps or as part of your daily practice.
Part of this article was initially published on TheEducator, written by Natural Born Leaders.