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ParenTalk- How Young Children Use All Their Senses To Learn

ParenTalk- How Young Children Use All Their Senses To Learn

This edition of ParenTalk has been contributed by Ekdali, explore the collection now!

The five senses of hearing, touch, sight, taste and smell are the primary means we use to gain new knowledge. People, irrespective of their age, learn best when the learning experience has context and meaning. Children are very adept at using all their senses to learn. Kids have not yet learnt to select information from any one sense as important and ignore the others. They are interested in everything and are curious to understand and assimilate the world around them with all their senses.

This is why parents, teachers and any other caregivers need to think and design ways to make learning multi – sensory.  Engaging more senses helps in better cognitive connections. The brain is able to connect things deeper and quicker and thereby the learning becomes more lasting. Children also find it easier to recollect the learning if its done using more senses, because there are more ways to trigger the brain and retrieve the information.

Let us now take a look at learning styles theory. We will also look at each of the 5 senses and what we can do to enhance use of this, while designing a learning experience and the interplay between the two.

What is Learning Style?

“Learning styles refer to a range of theories that aim to account for differences in individuals' learning.”

A lot of recent research has shown that these theories are not hundred percent accurate and one cant fit individuals in watertight learning styles. But never the less, it makes sense to look at some of them just being aware and not enforcing them too much. There are over 100 learning models in existence, let us take a look at the one that’s most relevant for sensory learning.

Walter Burke Barbe proposed the Learning Modalities theory .He and his team  proposed three  different modalities

  1. Visualizing Modality  - In this modality, people learn better when presented with pictures, sculptures, texts, shape, paintings 
  2. Auditory Modality  - In this modality, people learn better when listening. Rhythms and tones are a strong Suite 
  3. Kinesthetic Modality - Body Movements, Object Manipulation,  Gestures, Positioning help in the learning process

These learning modality strengths can occur independently or in combination and they can change and integrate over age.  It is important to recognize that these models are not all encompassing, but it’s a good way to structure a learning experience.

Now let us take a look at the senses one by one and  put them in a practical context of kids learning

Sight is a very crucial sense while learning, especially for visual learners who tend to use this sense the most. Picture books and concept posters are a great way to engage the kid’s sense of sight.

To make the learning experience more enjoyable, use eye- catching resources.

The key is to balance eye catchy colorful objects, so that they don’t become distractions.

Sense of sight is also put to maximum use when kids are outdoor and seeing new objects and vivid colors.  For example, when planning to teach kids about animals, a trip to the zoo might be very effective.  Children recall the shape size and color of an animal when they actually see it.

Hearing provides another additional input to kids while learning.  The effect of sound and listening can be very high when the kids preferred modality is auditory learning. 

Continuing our example of Animals at the zoo,  when the child hears the Animal make sounds, she can associate the sound with the animal and learn more aspects of the animal.

In an indoor environment - Read out loud stories,  Reading lesson texts and listening to podcasts are a great way to engage this sense.

Taste is a great way to help kids understand many things – Habitat, Geography History and Culture

Every place has a different food that is steeped in availability and there are cultural nuances. Kitchen is one of the best labs where kids can experiment with parents on amazing scientific and mathematical concepts and relate it to taste. Making and tasting food from different regions and different epochs in time is a great activity parent and child can undertake together as a weekend project and learn a bit more about the culture.

Also, associating a memory while doing with a fun fact can help kids retain more information.  Lets say we are making pooris together, when the poori puffs, we can talk about how the water in the dough gets evaporated and the steam pushes the layer to make puffy pooris.

Smell is the easiest sense for kids to understand. Smell helps in faster associations than most things.  For example, you can use a different fragrance for different lesson.  When the kid comes across the fragrance again, he or she is likely to remember the lesson as well. A great way to jog memory,

Kids learn a lot with the physical sense of touch. This sense is also more pronounced in kinesthetic learners. Doing and learning helps in this sense.  For example, creating models with play dough is a great way for kids to understand and remember what they are learning. Some ideas for models include – Solar system, Human body, Systems in human body, water cycle etc.

Any other hands on activities also help in learning.  Drawing models, craft etc. also use this sense.

It is important to remember that young children are very open to new experiences when introduced in a non-threatening environment. Parents and educators can experiment with creating learning plans and environments that are multi sensory.   Concepts that are introduced to kids in a multi-sensory manner tend to be understood easier and the retention is also better.

Let us try an example.

How do we teach the concept of solar system to kids

  1. We present a visual model to kids. You can make these on your own on a sheet of paper or you can buy a chart available here.  Sense of sight is further stimulated when you ask kids to point at objects in the picture
  2. Spend time with the model and read out loud about the solar system to kids. You can read about planet characteristics, orbits and various other objects in the system. You can also read books about the planetary system together.
  3. Create a clay model or a craft model of the system.  Use all your creativity and do the activity together!!

Keep experimenting and keep engaging as many senses as possible! Have a fun and enjoyable learning experience.



Blog contributed by Stella M, Content Head at Ekdali, and mom to two sons.