Multisensory Learning at Home: What All Parents Should Know
Takeaway: Help your child learn better by engaging all her senses. The trick is to make teaching tools out of things around the house and brainstorm fun activities that create a learning experience.
It’s so much more powerful to experience something than just hear about it.
There’s a difference between getting information and truly understanding it. For example, you can tell a young child what an apple is, but it’s not the same as her crunching into one. The experiences of seeing the vibrant colour, feeling its texture, smelling its fragrance — these are the real elements of an apple. And they’re a better teacher than even the most detailed textbook.
That’s why children learn best when you engage all their senses.
The ‘apple experience’ we just described was powerful because it engaged all the child’s senses. And each of these senses is a different pathway to her brain. So, the more of them she engages, more her brain can learn. This means that even if your child prefers to learn by watching, she’ll learn better if that watching is supplemented by hearing, touching, and doing. And for the best multisensory experience — like with the apple — she’ll engage all her senses at once. (It’s something called simultaneous multisensory instruction.)
Using multiple senses does more than just engage children better, though. It also stimulates different ‘intelligences.’
According to one theory, children have a blend of different types of intelligences. For example, there’s linguistic intelligence (reading and writing), logical intelligence (solving abstract problems), kinaesthetic intelligence (controlling body movements), musical intelligence (understanding pitch, rhythm, and timbre), etc. Some psychologists suggest that the more intelligences we stimulate, the better a child will learn. And multisensory learning is the best way to stimulate a child’s unique blend of intelligences.
So, how do we use a multisensory approach? Let’s take an example we all know about: learning the alphabet.
Multisensory learning seems pretty straightforward with tangible things like experiencing an apple. But what about more theoretically stuff? For example, how do we use a multisensory approach to teach children the shapes, names, and sounds of the letters in the alphabet? Well, teachers approach it from all sorts of angles. They’ll first show children a letter (the visual pathway), then name it and make the sound (the auditory pathway), then have them draw the letter in the air or in the sand (stimulating kinaesthetic intelligence), and finally, sing the alphabet song with them (stimulating musical intelligence).
As parents, we can use the same principle to teach older children, too. It’s just a matter of tweaking the techniques to fit your child’s needs.
To encourage a multisensory approach to learning, build a list of different teaching techniques (we’ve listed some examples below) and try to combine them in unique ways.
1. For visual learners (who learn best by seeing)
Buy your child books she can read and encourage her to highlight key concepts with different coloured pens. You could teach her how to use mind maps and flashcards, and encourage her to draw or paint posters, create presentations/models, write essays, and more.
2. For auditory learners (who learn best by listening)
Try and get your child audio versions of her favourite books from Audible, YouTube, etc. Or read them aloud and ask her questions as you go. You could also teach her to use text readers on the computer and encourage her to watch documentaries. She might even try writing catchy songs about what she’s learned and come up with melodies on her favourite instrument. (Younger children can tap into their musical intelligence by learning fun rhymes and chants.)
3. For tactile learners (who learn best through touch)
Give tactile learners activities like finger painting, clay sculpting, writing in sand trays, and more. For example, you could model the alphabet out of clay so that your child can run her fingers over a 3D version of each letter. This stimulates thousands of nerve endings in her fingers, which adds to the experience. You could also use board games and jigsaw puzzles to help improve her fine motor skills. Meanwhile, older children might find they focus better if they’re allowed to doodle or play with a sensory tool when learning.
4. For kinaesthetic learners (who learn best by moving)
Kinaesthetic learners love moving around, so have them learn through games and dance. For example, you could play charades to teach your child grammar. (E.g., To teach her about verbs, choose one, act it out, and ask her to guess what it is. Then swap roles and let her do the acting. To make it tougher, act out a whole sentence that’s built around the verb.) Similarly, to teach vocabulary, you can play the fly-swatting game. Write out a bunch of words randomly on a chart and draw a picture of a fly around each word. Then give your child a fly swatter (or something similar) to swat the right word as you read its definition.
Remember, the more fun the activity, the more your child will learn from it.
You’ll get the best results when there’s an element of play added into your multisensory teaching. For example, you could teach your child about primary and secondary colours by having her play with water and food colouring. (Fill three glasses with water and add different food colouring to each glass — e.g., red, blue, and yellow. Now have your child start adding in different colour combinations to see what happens.) Or you can play a colour scavenger hunt in the kitchen. You’ll name a colour, and your child has to bring you food with that colour in them. And afterwards, she can choose her favourite item as a treat — which adds the ‘taste’ sense to the game.
Creating multisensory experiences becomes even more important when children are away from school.
Children’s brains need diverse sensory input in order to develop properly. For example, as your child practises seeing and hearing the world around her, her brain starts to finetune its hand-eye coordination. And this, in turn, finetunes her gross and motor skills — i.e., how she runs, plays, doodles, does self-care activities, and more. So, the less sensory input, the fewer opportunities her brain gets to develop these skills. That’s another reason why lockdowns are so challenging, because virtual learning can’t give her the rich sensory input of in-person classroom experiences.
If you’d like to give your child more moments of multisensory learning, consider consulting a specialist.
You’ll find many fun, multisensory games and activities online, but for an approach that’s customised for your child, consider consulting a specialist. At The Ed Psych Practice, we offer face-to-face and online assessments, consultation, advice, and problem-solving strategies for parents, nurseries, schools, and universities in London. We have psychologists, paediatricians, and therapists who can help assess your child and offer guidance and support. To consult with us or set up an appointment:
- Phone: +44 (0) 78 3344 7356 / (0) 79 9053 8654
- E-mail: Office@TheEdPsych.com
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