Sensory learning – Using three senses to make lessons stick

Five senses

The world is replete with possibilities, especially when it comes to children’s learning. As part of their learning process, there is so much that children get to experience through their senses before they move on to additional conceptual thinking. Younger children explore the world around them through their five senses. As they interact with it, they gain knowledge and understanding through the information their senses provide.

Sensory learning is a learning technique in which children use any of their five senses to learn about and make sense of the environment around them. Over time, as children experience repeated exposure to sensory inputs in relation to everyday activities, they grow more familiar with those inputs and are able to decode them in more complex ways.

This mastery leads to an increase in comprehension skills when they start with school and learn to read and write words on paper or whiteboards. When these skills are factored into a child’s education, they will have an easier time catching up on reading and writing skills.

How the three senses foster learning 

Sensory learning is a form of experiential learning. It fosters children’s natural curiosity about their environment compared to other forms of learning. Albert Einstein once famously said, “I never teach my pupils. I only provide the conditions in which they can learn.” 

When you provide a child with learning opportunities that involve sensory-based learning in a classroom environment, they are encouraged to use their senses to explore their surroundings. 

This approach encourages children’s natural hunger for exploration and assists them in their overall development without forcing teaching methods upon them.  

With the help of the three senses, a child can explore their environment with all the richness that they have to offer.

Vision (visual learning)

Out of all the information we receive from our five senses, our sense of sight is responsible for a majority of it. The visual inputs that a baby receives throughout its different stages of growing up are responsible for important skills such as performing daily tasks, drawing, coloring, reading, writing, copying from the board, and cutting.

Toys such as ooze tubes and ooze cubes, Magna mazes, and glitter (wands, gel, pads, and lamps) can enhance the development of vision and visual perception.

Other forms of sensory-based learning — auditory or hearing-based learning and tactile or touch-based learning — are also important contributors to a sensory environment that stimulates a child as they learn physically and cognitively.

Touch (the tactile system)

When babies explore touch in their surroundings by grabbing their parents’ hands, or toys, they experience shape, texture, and size. What children learn through touch in the early stages of development lays the foundation for skills such as using a hair comb, buttoning a shirt, holding a pencil or cutlery, typing, and so on. Sand play, foam building blocks, therapy putty, and cuddle balls are some of the toys useful for development in this area.

Hearing (auditory)

Babies first learn about sound by listening to the different sounds in their surroundings, such as people’s voices, music, and those coming from toys like rattles. They also learn to make sounds themselves, like cooing or crying. These aspects help with developing language along with voice and speech, which impact communication, listening to learn, and music appreciation.

The importance of multisensory learning  

Simultaneous use of visual, auditory, and kinesthetic-tactile pathways and making connections between them comprise multisensory learning. It enhances memory and fosters learning to read and write. Essentially, ‘multisensory learning’ is rooted in the theory that using more than one sense is more effective for learners, and there is a vast body of research supporting this theory.

Over the years, research has indicated that human brains have naturally adapted to processing multisensory signals better than unisensory ones. Moreover, it has also come to light that coherence in daily life comes from processing information from multisensory sources. Some studies also indicate the advantages of multisensory learning through the concurrent engagement of multiple senses. 

Educators have been working toward including multiple senses into their teaching to offer students a richer experience and a better understanding of concepts. 

The use of multisensory methods can help students learn the material better, as well as increase their cognitive abilities in areas such as reasoning, problem-solving and critical thinking.  

Different senses need to be explicitly incorporated into the curriculum in order to provide the most benefit, as multimodal methods have been showing considerable promise over traditional language-and-listening methods. Further, experiencing multiple sources of stimuli at the same time can engage learners differentially over time and improves retention rates.

Sensory lessons for special needs

Multisensory teaching can be a beneficial approach to teaching children with special needs. International Dyslexia Association (IDA) and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development support multisensory learning. Further, the IDA has also recognized it as an “…important aspect of instruction for dyslexic students that is used by clinically trained teachers.”

Some examples of multisensory activities include air writing, tapping out sounds, whole body spelling activities, watching story performances, and word-based illustration activities. 

Sensory lessons for special needs are also beneficial in several ways. It is a good idea to have different activities that engage all of the five senses. They can contribute toward developing communication, social skills, managing emotions, and a sense of self in children.

Ezra Gustin is a content creator for last 3 years, based in New York. He is a young writer who writes about special needs children in his spare time. Ezra loves to write about life, and children, and to inspire people with his creative content.