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10 Activities to Foster Multisensory Learning in Young Children (A Physical Therapist’s Guide)

Discover the wonders of multisensory learning for young children and explore various activities that can enhance their developmental skills. This informative blog post offers a friendly guide to this dynamic educational approach.

A KId With Multicolored Hand Paint

Introduction: Unleashing the Power of Multisensory Learning

In the world of early childhood education, there's a magical realm where children explore, learn, and grow using all their senses. It's called multisensory learning, a dynamic approach that engages kids through sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. This enchanting journey not only ignites their curiosity but also nurtures essential developmental skills. In this blog post, we'll delve into the delightful world of multisensory learning and provide a treasure trove of activities that cater to each unique sense, explaining the developmental benefits along the way.

What is Sensory Processing?

Sensory processing is the brain's ability to receive, interpret, and respond to sensory information from the environment. These sensory inputs encompass touch, taste, smell, sound, and sight, providing children with essential cues for understanding the world around them. Because the sensory systems are how we take in information, sensory processing are the basis of learning! It's important to optimize the way these systems function so that our kids are best equipped to receive and interpret the signals they are receiving from this rich and exciting world around them.

From the moment a child is born, their senses are actively engaged in making sense of the world. The touch of a caregiver's hand, the sound of lullabies, the smell of familiar scents, and the sight of colorful objects all contribute to their sensory experiences. These experiences are not isolated; they are interconnected and form the foundation for cognitive, emotional, and social growth.

In education, sensory processing plays a pivotal role in shaping a child's ability to learn, adapt, and thrive. A well-regulated sensory system enhances attention, memory, and problem-solving skills, thereby facilitating effective learning. On the other hand, challenges in sensory processing can lead to difficulties in focusing, emotional regulation, and social interactions, hindering a child's educational progress.

You might also like: “Unlocking the Potential: Understanding Sensory Processing in Homeschooling

Incorporating the Senses in the School Day

1. Sight: The Visual System

Activity 1: Nature Scavenger Hunt: Encouraging Visual Exploration

Cute girls in warm clothes and gloves carrying soft baskets during Easter Egg hunt strolling in spring garden
A scavenger hunt can help with refining visual discrimination skills.

Take your little explorer on a nature scavenger hunt. The great outdoors serves as a sensory wonderland, particularly in the visual system. Provide a list of items to find in your backyard or a local park, like colorful flowers, smooth stones, or interesting leaves. As they search, they develop their visual discrimination skills (distinguishing items from their background, such as picking up a brown acorn lying on a pile of brown leaves), learn to identify patterns and shapes, and enhance their observation abilities.

Activity 2: Incorporate Visual Timers: Nurture Self-Regulation

Visual timers serve as a great tool for a variety of reasons, but many kids find them a great help for regulating their bodies because they can have a clear depiction of how long an activity is expected to last. This is also great for cutting down on the constant questioning that makes you want to scream (“How much longer are we doing this, mom?!”). Using sand timers or other bubble and water timers are great little inputs of calm to the visual system as they watch the time trickle down.

Other Ideas:

  • Sensory videos such as Kinetic Sand Cutting or Hey Bear Sensory (my kids' favorite), both found on YouTube.
  • Seek and finds
  • Sequin sensory toys or other shiny/glittery play breaks
  • If your child gets easily overstimulated, turning down the lights or letting them work inside of a blanket fort for a time can help them calm down.
  • Conversely, if your child is has issues with low sensory registration and struggles to stay alert and engaged, turning up the lighting or going outside on a sunny day to work may be of benefit.

2. Sound: The Auditory System

Activity 1: Sound Matching Game: Fostering Auditory Discrimination

Create a sound matching game using small containers with items that make different noises, like bells, buttons, or coins. Encourage your child to shake the containers and match the sounds they hear. This activity enhances their auditory discrimination and sound recognition, crucial for developing early language and literacy skills.

Activity 2: Music Time: Calm or Alert the System

Let your child listen to instrumental music as they work, or even give them breaks to dance and listen to more upbeat music. Encourage clapping or banging along to the beat to get extra tactile input and work on those rhythm skills!

Photo of a Boy Listening in Headphones
Music can serve as a means of calming, or it can be an opportunity for practicing motor skills with dance!

Other Ideas:

  • Have a few handheld musical instruments and without your child seeing, make a noise with one of the instruments. Let them experiment and choose from the box to try matching the instrument to the sound.
  • Sing a rhyme together that reinforces a concept you've been working on
  • Sound scavenger hunt (find a bird chirping, a doorbell ringing, etc.)

3. Touch: The Tactile System

Activity 1: Sensory Bin Exploration: Fine-Tuning Tactile Sensations

Fill a sensory bin with a variety of materials like rice, dried beans, and textured fabrics. Hide small toys or objects within. Your child can explore the bin, touching and feeling the different textures. This activity helps refine their fine motor skills, promotes sensory processing, and enhances their tactile awareness.

Set of plastic containers with various stones and raw pasta on table
Noodles, rice, beans, sand, and water are cheap and easy sensory bin options.

Activity 2: Guessing Game: Tactile Discrimination Skills

With your child blindfolded, have an assortment of objects with a variety of textures inside of different boxes or bags, and have them feel to try and determine what the object is. This works on stereognosis, which uses a very specific part of the brain and is essential for translating tactile input to information used for motor planning.

Other Ideas:

  • Handheld fidget toys
  • Slime, play-doh, shaving cream, and other 3-D models for reinforcing learning content. For example, making spelling words out of play-doh is a great idea and actually is part of a specific strategy for helping learners with dyslexia!
  • Water play

4. Taste: The Gustatory System

Activity 1: Sensory Taste Test: Expanding Palates and Descriptive Language

Offer a sensory taste test with different flavors, like sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. Use items such as fruits, vegetables, or even a touch of dark chocolate. Encourage your child to describe the tastes they experience. This activity broadens their palate, boosts vocabulary development, and deepens their sensory experiences.

Activity 2: Reward System: Calm or Alert the System

Give your child a treat if they need a pick-me-up or if you see them doing good work. Flavors like mint are alerting and help with focus. Crunchy textures are also alerting, so munching on pretzels can give your child the jolt they may need to push through. If your child is overstimulated, sucking through a straw is considered an “organzing” activity that can help them regulate their system and calm down.

A Girl Riding a Scooter
Sucking from a straw or on a sucker can be an organizing and calming activity.

Other Ideas:

  • Let your child make their own cooking creations.
  • Taste matching: find two flavors that are salty, bitter, etc.
  • “Tasting party” of foods from various cultures.
  • Blindfolded “name that food” game.

5. Smell: The Olfactory System

Activity 1 : Aromatic Playdough Creation: Enhancing Olfactory Exploration

Make scented playdough with your child using ingredients like essential oils, vanilla extract, or spices. As they knead and shape the playdough, they explore various scents. This activity sharpens their sense of smell, encourages creativity, and engages their imagination.

Activity 2: Name that Smell: Encourage Olfactory Discrimination

Have a variety of smells available and with your child blindfolded, let them try and figure out what each smell is. You can make this an engaging game if you have multiple children, and you can even have them come up with their own smells for each other to guess.

Side view of adorable little child with blond hair in stylish clothes smelling fresh pink rose growing on lush shrub in garden
The olfactory system is most closely linked with memory and retention of information.

Other Ideas:

  • Make use of calming smells like lavender, or alerting smells like mints and citrus
  • Burn a candle while working so your child can associate the content learned with the smells in the air (smell is the sense that is most strongly correlated to memory!)

Conclusion: Choose Approaches that Work Best for Your Child

In conclusion, multisensory learning is a captivating approach that nurtures various developmental skills in young children. By engaging their senses in exciting activities like these, you'll be supporting their cognitive, motor, and sensory growth while making learning a joyful and memorable experience. So, dive into the world of multisensory learning and watch your child's curiosity and abilities flourish!

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