In the early stages of life, children are like sponges, eagerly soaking up the world around them. It’s during this critical period that their brains are wired for learning, making it essential to provide them with the richest, most engaging experiences possible. One key principle that scientists from various fields, including developmental psychology, neuroscience, and behavior analysis, have emphasized is the importance of multisensory learning.
Engaging the Senses: A Scientific Perspective
Scientific research across various disciplines converges on the understanding that young children learn most effectively when they engage with their environment through multiple senses.
In early childhood, the brain exhibits high adaptability, with multisensory experiences significantly stimulating different brain regions, thereby strengthening neural connections. This sensory engagement, where children touch, see, smell, taste, and hear simultaneously, leads to the formation of complex associations in the brain, enhancing the depth and retention of learning.
Moreover, hands-on, experiential learning environments, as observed in developmental psychology, allow children to interact physically with three-dimensional objects. This interaction not only facilitates learning about the objects themselves but also aids in the development of crucial cognitive skills like spatial awareness, understanding of object permanence, and recognizing cause-and-effect relationships. Additionally, such 3D learning environments typically involve social interactions with caregivers or peers, furthering social development alongside cognitive growth.
In the context of behavior analysis, specifically through the lens of Relational Frame Theory, sensory engagement is seen as fundamental in creating connections between different elements like objects, sounds, and textures. These connections form the basis for language development, problem-solving abilities, and complex thinking, illustrating that sensory experiences act as a foundational platform for various learning processes.
So, let’s create environments that allow children to explore, touch, feel, see, smell, and hear the world around them. By doing so, we ensure that they embark on a multisensory learning adventure that sets the stage for a lifetime of curiosity, discovery, and success.
Game Time! The Sensory Guessing Adventure
Playing games that temporarily dampen one sense to heighten others can be a fun and educational way to explore sensory perception. Here’s a game called “Sensory Guessing” that you can play with children:
Objective: To encourage children to rely on their remaining senses when one is temporarily restricted, promoting sensory exploration and cognitive development.
What You’ll Need:
- Blindfold (or a scarf or cloth to cover the eyes)
- A variety of safe, familiar objects with distinct characteristics (e.g., a lemon, a cotton ball, a small bell, a piece of sandpaper)
How to Play:
- Safety First: Before beginning the game, ensure that the child understands the rules and feels safe. Emphasize that they can remove the blindfold at any time if they feel uncomfortable or scared. Use a soft, comfortable blindfold, and check in with the child’s comfort level throughout the game.
- Set Up the Game: Place the objects in a container or on a table. Make sure the child is familiar with these objects and their names.
- Blindfold the Child: Gently blindfold the child and reassure them of their safety.
- Select the Object: Without the child seeing, choose one of the objects from the container/table.
- Engage the Senses:
- Sight: Since the child’s sight is temporarily restricted, ask them to describe the object they are holding or touching using only their sense of touch. What does it feel like? Is it smooth, rough, hard, or soft?
- Hearing: Next, have the child listen carefully to any sounds the object makes when they interact with it. For example, if it’s a bell, ask them what sound it produces when they shake it.
- Smell: Afterward, encourage the child to use their sense of smell. Let them take a sniff and describe any scents or odors they detect.
- Taste (Optional): If the object is safe to taste (e.g., a piece of fruit), you can ask the child to take a small, cautious bite and describe the flavor. However, always ensure the child’s safety and comfort with this step.
- Guess the Object: Based on their observations through touch, sound, smell, and taste (if applicable), the child can make a guess about what the object might be.
- Reveal the Object: Finally, reveal the object to the child. Discuss their guesses and observations. This is an excellent opportunity for conversation and learning about the characteristics of different objects.
*Remember that children may have varying sensory sensitivities and preferences. Some children may be more sensitive to sensory stimuli, while others may seek out sensory-rich experiences. Recognizing these individual differences is essential for tailored learning and support.