A solid body of research supports the role of the senses in skill development and concept retention. Multisensory learning strategies make deliberate use of touch, hearing, and sound to enhance the brain’s ability to relay information. According to educational research, the more sensory pathways we involve, the more efficiently and effectively we learn. Anyone who’s observed a baby or a toddler exploring the environment will understand the advantages of sense-based learning strategies. It’s natural for children to learn by grasping and squeezing and by looking at and putting things in their mouths. They also respond to sounds and experiment with sounds they produce with their vocal cords or by moving and throwing objects.
The familiar ‘See, Say, Do’ is an example of a multisensory learning strategy in which a child looks at a picture, says the name of the letter or object and then writes the name of the object down. However, more complex systems, such as the Orton-Gillingham reading approach and the Montessori Method, have evolved from sense-based learning strategies. Many schools are also incorporating multisensory approaches to deliver the curriculum to students of all ages. For example, in higher grade levels, students are developing grammar skills through charades where students act out a word while other classmates try to guess the verb. Learning strategies that involve memory devices, drama and multimedia also use the senses to teach complex concepts.
You can teach your child to read or spell any challenging word by using the following sense-based learning strategies:
Recite in Rhythm: Clap or tap out the rhythm of a word as you spell it. Say each letter as you tap and divide longer words into groups of letters (c-o-m/p-l-e-x). Then have your child tap and spell the word with you.
Visualization: To use this learning strategy, say the whole word and spell it one letter at a time. Have your child visualize each letter as you spell.
Tracing and Skywriting: Instead of tapping or visualizing the letters, have your child ‘write’ them in the air or trace them on a textured surface. Velour is a good choice but any fabric that appeals to your child will involve the sensation of touch in the learning process. To get the most from this learning strategy, your child should keep his eyes closed to increase the focus on tactile sensations. He should also say each letter aloud as he spells the word.
Although multisensory learning strategies are most often used to teach basic literacy skills, parents and educators have always involved the senses in teaching children to count or add and subtract with marbles and other objects. Many good resources are now available to help you support your child’s development with sense-based learning strategies.