Fingers & Toes, Eyes & Nose - Learning through Multi-Sensory Play© Copyright BabyClassroom
Our senses are our guide through the world around us, and for babies and young children, they make every moment of every day a fascinating discovery. Gazing at a colorful toy, hearing a bird sing, smelling a flower, tasting something salty or sweet, and touching the softness of their favorite blanket are all part of learning about their world.
Parents can help their children focus all that sensory input into a variety of learning experiences. Robert Titzer, Ph.D., an educator and researcher in the field of infant learning, provides Early Learning Workshops in which he encourages parents of babies and young children to make a multi-sensory experience of play. He explains:
- Multi-sensory play is "very appropriate for young learners who are still discovering how their sensory systems work."
- Multi-sensory learning experiences are more effective and "usually more interesting for the child, possibly because extra synapses are formed among the various areas of the brain receiving the sensory information."
- The multi-sensory approach works with most any child's learning style. It is both appropriate and effective for "children who may be primarily visual learners, auditory learners, or kinesthetic (movement) learners."
All in a Day's Play
Scratching your head about how to give your infant or toddler multi-sensory learning experiences? Don't worry; it isn't as difficult as it might seem. You'll find a variety of multi-sensory learning opportunities throughout the day that you can share with your child.
Involve your child in around-the-house tasksłit's a simple and enjoyable way to integrate multi-sensory learning into your child's day. Since young children love to help with parents' "chores," you can teach your child while making these chores fun for both of you. Try these to get you started:
Sorting laundry (sight, hearing, touch, smell)
This activity is both enjoyable for your child and stimulates multiple senses because, Dr. Titzer points out, your child is "able to see you sort the clothing, hear your voice, touch the soft clothing, and smell the clean clothes."
- Show your infant or toddler an item of clothing, for example, a sock or two.
- Tell her what the sock is called.
- Show her how to place the socks in a pile.
- Show her another, different, item of clothing, and tell her what the item is called.
- Tell her what you are doing as you create a new pile for this different item.
- Let her touch and smell the clothes.
- Allow your older infant or toddler to help you sort the clothes.
Cooking (sight, hearing, smell)
Try this activity from The Baby School Company:
- Place your baby in a high chair so he can watch you while you cook.
- Poke holes in the lid of an empty container.
- Fill the container with a food that has an interesting smell, for example, a lemon wedge, a piece of garlic, or a cinnamon stick. (Safety Tip: Do not use any powders or hot, spicy items.)
- Try drawing your child's attention to the sounds in the kitchen while you are cooking, such as water boiling, the swish of a whisk, and the whirr of an electric mixer or blender.
More Activities to Try
Categorize Toys (sight, touch, hearing)
- Group your child's toys by a similar feature such as color.
- Show your child the different groups and point out the different color in each.
- To engage more of your child's senses, try grouping the toys by texture or sound (squeak, rattle, crinkle, sound/no sound, etc.).
Explore Textures (touch, hearing)
Try this idea from The Baby School Company:
- Collect items of various textures throughout the house, such as a piece of satin, cotton, sandpaper, burlap, or tissue paper. (Safety Tip: Do not leave baby unattended with these materials. Adult supervision required.)
- Rub each item gently over your baby's hand as you tell her about the texture she is feeling.
- Let baby rub her hands over each item.
- Show your baby the sound each item makes; for the safe, soft items such as satin or tissue paper, try gently rubbing these against her ear. Try scratching rough items such as sandpaper or burlap with your fingernail or a popsicle stick.
Shake-it-up Rhythm (hearing, sight)
Here's another suggestion from The Baby School Company:
- Fill a small, clear Tupperware container with dried beans.
- Close and seal securely with strong tape such as duct tape.
- Let baby use this as a special shaking toy.
- Baby can see the beans making the sound and understand the cause-and-effect relationship. Get creative with items to put in the container to make different sounds.
- Also try putting colorful items in the container to add more visual interest.
- (Safety Tip: Never allow baby to play with this unsupervised.)
Through a multi-sensory approach, Dr. Titzer says, parents can even help a child with a "primarily cognitive task" such as learning to read. He suggests:
- Point to a word as your child hears you read it.
- Engage your child in a physical action related to the word.
- Show her an image representing the meaning of the word.
Adding Sign Language to the Multi-Sensory Experience
Sign language is another enjoyable way to add to multi-sensory play, since it is in itself a multi-sensory experience that combines visual and auditory stimulation. If you and your child are not familiar with sign language, see Success Teaching Baby Sign Language and Helpful Hints for Teaching Baby Sign Language, as well as our variety of baby sign language materials.
- Start with signs for objects or actions that are the most familiar to your child, like milk, eat, sock, foot, hand, cat, or dog.
- Integrate these signs into the multi-sensory experience.
- For example, show your child the family cat (sight).
- Tell her, "this is a cat," while showing her the sign for "cat" (hearing and sight).
- Stimulate her sense of touch by helping her make the sign and letting her stroke the cat.
- Add further auditory stimulation by telling her that a cat says "meow" and letting her hear the cat purr.
Let Your Child Lead the Way
Taking cues from your child when deciding how best to include multi-sensory learning in playtime will make the experiences more meaningful and enjoyable for both of you. Here are Dr. Titzer's suggestions:
Infants: Carefully observe and listen to your baby, then respond to his interests. This makes your infant happier, plus, as Dr. Titzer points out, "Several studies have found a positive correlation between parents' responsiveness and their children's IQs."
- Notice what your baby's attention is focused on, and then talk to him about what he is looking at or listening to.
- For example, if your baby is looking at his toes, touch his toes and tell him, "These are your toes." This gives him simultaneous visual, auditory, and haptic (touch) stimulation.
- When you respond to your child's visual attention and add the multi-sensory dimension, you are helping him to have a better understanding of the world.
Toddlers: Draw on specific interests your toddler may have.
- "When your child shows an interest in a particular topic," he says, "try to help him learn about that topic using as many sensory systems as possible."
- For example, "If your child is interested in learning about flowers, let him see, smell, touch, and even hear the gentle sound the flower makes brushing against his ear."
There are no rules to multi-sensory play, and once you get started, the possibilities are endless. So get your little one's eyes, ears, nose, hands, and even taste buds involved in playtimełyou'll find that helping your baby or toddler play with as many senses as possible is a learning experience that both of you will enjoy!
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