In any early childhood forum (this one included), the words “sensory learning” pop up so often that it seems they must be synonymous with early learning itself. So then, what exactly, is sensory learning? Why is it so valued? And how can you provide your baby with sensory learning experiences? Indeed, sensory learning forms part of my teaching philosophy, so today we’ll look at some simple answers to these questions.
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hot topics & interesting info or Q&A
Today’s Topic: Sensory Learning
- What is it?
Simply put, it is learning through the stimulation of the senses (seeing, hearing, smelling, touching/feeling and tasting). One of the ideas behind it, is that learning and retention improve, the more our senses are engaged. Also, since babies are not able to speak and can not understand everything that is being spoken to them, this is their natural and main method of experiencing the world and learning about things. Often, sensory activities have “open-ended” learning outcomes (meaning the learner is not bound by rules, instructions and a specific objective. The outcome is whatever is appealing and valuable to the learner – whatever the learner wants it to be.)
- Why is it so valued?
The sensory learning approach is one component of education deemed important by Maria Montessori (the founder of the Montessori educational philosophy) and has been legitimized by teachers, parents,caregivers and children worldwide. Sensory activities offer a range of learning opportunity in all categories of child development. Here are some examples:
- Language Development – Children want to use language when they have experiences that are interesting to them. Sensory experiences are exciting because each child can use the materials differently.
- Social & Emotional Development – In sensory learning experiences, children control their actions and their experience. This heightens their self-confidence and enables them to make decisions; it encourages self-discovery as they indulge their curiosity. Sensory activities are also conducive to cooperative play and learning to understand somebody else’s viewpoint.
- Gross Motor & Fine Motor Development – This can include pouring, measuring, stirring and whisking interesting materials or examining different surfaces with hands and feet.
- Creative Development – Given the open-ended nature of sensory activities, creative development can flourish because the process of what is being done, is more important than the outcome. The sky is the limit!
- Cognitive Development – There are so many things that can be listed here, I will mention a few: Math skills (size, counting, timing, matching, classifying, sorting). Simple concepts (sink/float, full/empty, more/less). Science (cause and effect, gravity, solids vs. liquids, problem solving).
- How can you provide sensory learning experiences?
The good news is, it’s easy, inexpensive and the possibilities are endless! If there is a down-side, it is that sensory activities are often messy, requiring a suitable space and sometimes, considerable clean up time. The simplest explanation I can give is, provide your child/baby with a 1) a tactile material and 2) objects with which to manipulate the material.
- Examples of materials – Water, sand/mud, rice, pasta, cornmeal, dry beans, play-dough, saw dust, grass seed, shaving cream, finger paint, clay, confetti, putty, whipped cream, rocks, buttons, foam pieces……………..
- Examples of objects used to manipulate the materials – basters, whisks, waterwheels, shovels, pails, funnels, plastic containers, ice cube trays, tongs, cooking utensils, sponges, sea shells, sifters, plastic eggs, combs, moulds, vehicles, bowls, straws, pipe cleaners………
* Be sure that the materials don’t present a choking hazard and also be mindful of using materials that can cause a slipping hazard (shaving foam, soap, water, etc. Putting down a mat or towel can help mitigate slipping).
Pictures from some of the sensory learning activities we have done:
Check out one of our most popular posts – Make your own sensory toys!