Every child is going to learn differently. All children use their senses to help them to explore the world and learn many different things, but each child uses this sensory input a bit differently as they process the information.
Most children rely heavily on visual input. Some rely heavily on auditory input. It helps these children to hear about what they are learning as much or possibly more so than just seeing the topic or reading about it. During the infant and toddler years, children put things into their mouths as part of their explorations. For some students, adding experience through taste helps them to learn. Other students need kinesthetic input to enhance their learning. And to top it all off, most children use all of these sensory inputs to greater or lesser degrees than others.
The schools are supposed to take care of all of this educational stuff, right? As a former educator, I strongly disagree. Regardless of whether your child attends a formal school or is homeschooled, the parents lead the way when it comes to education. Parents who value education and who love to learn will often have children who are more amenable to taking advantage of their education. Parents who abdicate all responsibility for their child and his or her studies will likely (but not always) raise more lackadaisical students.
Parents need to understand that learning is not limited to a classroom setting. Learning is just a part of living and exploring as we live our lives. Learning is an active endeavor. Some things may be learned passively, but the lessons that tend to stick with us into our adult lives tend to be made more memorable by our active participation in them.
So, how can parents possibly wade through the myriad of possibilities and know how to help their children learn? It’s actually a bit simpler than you may think.
All children require some of each of these inputs as they learn, barring a major disability. The key is to maximize the ones that your student enjoys while making sure they all get a little time at the educational party.
How? Just follow the five senses for starters. Here are some examples of things that parents can do with children of all ages to help foster learning by using the senses.
Sight. This is easy. Look at what you are learning. Are there illustrations in a book? Can you go outside and identify types of leaves or plants? Can your toddler name the animals in a picture or in a field or petting zoo?
Hearing. Read to your child. Read with your child. Let your child read to you. Take turns reading. Even when you are doing the reading, you are hearing your own voice say the words. For many learners, this stimulates the formation of memory better than other sensory inputs. Listen to music and learn about composers. Learn to play an instrument. Learn how to distinguish bird songs. Encourage young children to play with the classic See ‘N Say toys to hear sounds and identify what made each sound.
Taste. There is a great reason that many teachers let students add a cooking component to a lesson, particularly in Geography classes. Getting the sample the cuisines of another culture is a fantastic way to explore another culture. When you go on vacation to the coast, does your family try the local ‘catch of the day’? Do you sample regional dishes and discuss why certain ingredients may be typical of that area’s dishes? Nothing helps you remember a historic sugar plantation better than the taste from chewing on a piece of sugar cane.
Touch. Children who rely heavily on touch often use movement (kinesthetics) to learn. Tap a surface as you count with your child. Let your child feel items that are related to the location you are visiting or a lesson in school. Learning about Scotland, feel woolen fabric or even pet a lamb at a petting zoo while talking about where wool comes from and how it is processed. Use manipulatives with math that the child can touch and handle. Get outside and dig in the dirt to plant flowers or make rubbings of tree bark or leaves. It’s okay to get dirty. In some circles, a little dirt is much appreciated!
Smell. Even been near a paper mill? Particularly before the EPA regulated emissions, those were some stinky places! Once you have experienced that sulphurous smell, you will never forget it. The olfactory glands in our brains are located very near our memory centers. This is why certain smells can evoke memories with shocking clarity. The smell of theater popcorn or cookies baking in Grandma’s kitchen help us to recall information. Students use this, too. How many 40-somethings remember the smell of mimeograph fluid on school handouts?
Of course, this is not a definitive listing of methods for enhancing education, but it is a good start to encourage inquisitiveness and observation about the world around us while using the senses. Learning is an active process, so get away from the television and cell phones and start interacting with the people and places nearby.
How do you use your senses to learn?
Till next time,