Using Multisensory Activities To Help Young Children Learn
The Montessori Method focuses heavily on the concept of “multisensory learning” - that is, learning that engages at least two or more senses. This makes a lot of sense, because even from birth, children are learning instinctively with their five senses; they don’t have language yet to communicate or interpret the world. Infants are learning, though, by listening, tasting, feeling, seeing, and smelling the world around them.
Maria Montessori realized that young children are essentially information sponges and she understood the connection between learning and the senses. For her, a multisensory approach to learning is simply the natural learning style of children, and this concept became foundational to her philosophy.
You can use a variety of multisensory activities to enrich your Montessori child’s learning experience. Here are some of our favorites, how to use them, and why they’re so important in a Montessori homeschool setting.
What is a Multisensory Approach to Learning?
Multisensory learning allows kids to use a variety of senses to explore each new topic. It is a way for children to learn through multiple senses, such as utilizing vision, taste, and kinesthetic-tactile learning. This is turn better ensures the child processes and retains the information.
For example, learning phonics through a combination of tracing the letter's shape, speaking the letter's sound, and associating the letter with objects that begin with the letter's sound can dramatically boost retention.
Multisensory Learning Outdoors
Henry David Thoreau stated that he believed people “learn best in nature”, and Maria Montessori agreed. She thought that nature provides endless opportunities for learning, especially for younger children. As adults who may have gone through traditional schooling systems, we might question how nature could be so beneficial to learning.
The fact is that children, and in particular very young children, are amazing learners on their own. They’re built to take in information, process it, and are constantly curious and hungry for more. Nature provides an endless buffet of sights, sounds, smells, sensations, and tastes for a curious toddler.
Nature and Multisensory Learning
Think of an early morning walk through your garden, where you pause to harvest a basketful of snap peas. While it may be a relaxing moment for you, it’s a huge learning moment for your child. Your child sees the green color, tastes the sweet flavor, hears the crunch, feels the fuzzy pods, and smells the fresh earthiness around them. This combination of sensory input tells them a lot about peas and the garden, and because it’s all sensory information, they retain it well.
That’s the main objective of multisensory learning - to heighten retention and learning through the incorporation of multiple senses. Just think of some of your most profound memories of childhood - you probably associate them with specific smells, flavors, or sounds. This is because the engagement of multiple senses makes memories and learning more powerful.
Children are natural born learners
As part of traditional schooling, we are “taught” a certain way to learn. This is usually through repetition and lecture, but children come into the world equipped with the sensory intake and cognitive ability to learn on their own. This is the main reason why Montessori is child-led, because children are natural scientists; they organically want to learn as much as possible and instinctively know that engaging their senses will effectuate that goal. That's why they tend to use all of their senses on each new thing. And, it's also why you have to grab things from your toddler’s mouth at times.
Using Multisensory Learning in your Homeschool
There are endless ways to incorporate multisensory learning into your homeschool daily routines. Take letters for instance - as we said before, you can have them trace the letter with their finger and say the letter sound out loud, but you can also:
- Have them recreate the letter with objects, yarn, string, or beads
- Have them walk the letter's shape using colorful tape
- Draw the letter
- Find objects that begin with the letter sound in nature (and draw them!)
This list is of course not exhaustive - your imagination is the only limit on how you incorporate multisensory learning into your curriculum.
Another example might be in science, when learning about tomatoes. You can have your child help you prepare tomatoes as a snack, or plant, water and harvest some during nature time. You can incorporate math by having the child count seeds, or pieces of sliced tomato. Again, the levels of engagement are nearly limitless.
The goal with multisensory learning is to incorporate at least two senses, and to link them together in your educational pursuit. Montessori rarely teaches any concept in a vacuum, either, so often there will be overlap between science, math, reading, and so on. This interconnectedness further improves learning outcomes.
Reasons to Use A Multisensory Learning Approach
There are a variety of very good reasons to use a multisensory approach when it comes to teaching children. While multisensory learning facilitates better learning and retention, it approaches education in a way that will truly help your child thrive.
Multisensory learning helps children stay focused
One of the most important goals of Montessori learning is to help children learn to focus on singular tasks for extended periods of time. Large blocks of uninterrupted learning time encourages this concentration and builds it up, like a muscle. This can be difficult in the beginning, especially for younger children.
Bringing in a multisensory approach helps capture your child’s attention longer, and gives them more facets to explore for whatever concept they’re learning at the time.
Not all children learn the same way
Think back to a time when you had to learn something, but reading the material just wasn’t helping. Maybe you had to have someone show you, or you simply had to hear it explained to you. Kids are no different - not every child learns in a strictly visual way, or from seeing something demonstrated.
Multisensory learning helps children get a complete view of each concept they’re exploring, allowing them to dive more deeply into methods they understand. This is especially helpful for children who have perceived learning difficulties in the traditional model, but might thrive if they’re allowed to direct their own learning and learn in their own ways.
Multisensory learning teaches children to approach problems differently
When children are taught using a method that focuses on a single approach, they get stuck in that mindset. They might not consider other angles to solving problems, or even consider that other methods of solution exist. This limits their thinking and ultimately reduces the amount of knowledge they can gain in any particular subject.
Multisensory learning teaches them to explore everything fully; to truly learn all the facets of an object or a scenario as much as possible. When they experience the success that comes with this approach, they’ll apply these experiences to future situations as well.
Multisensory learning is a powerful education tool
Taking a lead from infants and toddlers, it’s important to not limit the methods by which we allow children to gather information. Kids want to learn as much as possible about the world around them, and they use all of their senses to that pursuit.
Starting in infancy, babies use all of their senses to explore the world, and even though they age, this need to explore through the senses doesn’t go away. Incorporating more senses and movement into education improves enjoyment and learning.
Nature walks are a fantastic way to incorporate multisensory learning. Children can see, hear, feel, smell, and in some cases taste the world around them. Learning about raspberries is fine, but seeing them, tasting them, and feeling their green leaves warmed by the sun? That’s priceless, and will help them create a more complete concept of the raspberry plant than just reading about it or seeing it alone.
Multisensory learning incorporates at least two senses in each activity, and more if possible. For instance, if you’re learning letters, sandpaper letters traced with by fingers is a great way to learn. If you’re learning about a specific plant, they can experience them in nature, read about them, taste their fruits, and plant them in soil. By incorporating multiple senses into each experience, your child will retain the information longer, learn more thoroughly, and enjoy the activity more.
Maria Montessori emphasized how important incorporating the senses is in learning, starting with infancy. Allowing your child to explore using every sense available to them makes their education more enjoyable while teaching them to approach new concepts from every possible angle.