Whole Body Learning: Why Sensory Experiences Are So Important

Child learning with the whole body learning.

When you think about sending your child to school, you may expect the linear model of learning, where the teacher provides information and the children internalize it to learn answers, letters, numbers, and events. While memorization is a key part of retaining knowledge, the best learning is done with the senses.

Sensory activities are a huge part of the Montessori classroom simply because they have the greatest impact on early brain development and learning patterns. Have you wondered why sensory play and learning is so important for your child? Here’s what you need to know about engaging the senses and how it relates to education. 

Engage the Senses

Think about the way a little baby begins to learn about the world. Even though an infant has limited movement, he or she begins the process of life-long learning by listening, seeing, and feeling. The pathways are developed early in life. This is why, for example, a baby can be calmed by the voice of his or her mother.

The learning process does not change as children grow older, but it does expand. With greater movement, better vision, improved hearing, more defined taste and smell, and ever-increasing neural pathways, children continue to explore and make conclusions about the world. Within the first few years of life, children learn that:

  • Some food is hot. They experience this and may even begin to ask or discern between which foods are hot or not. This is a form of pattern recognition, essential for more sophisticated learning later on.
  • Certain things make certain noises. Have you ever felt annoyed when your toddler continually bangs on pots, counters, books, or floors? It’s a test to feel and hear the difference between them all.
  • Not all things look the same. Apples can be green, yellow, or red. Birds can be big or small. These tiny observations are simple to adults, but to children, each one is a foundation for greater learning.

The best educative processes use this natural learning ability to foster enduring curiosity. Sensory play and activities encourage the discovery process as children naturally seek the answers to questions like “I wonder why…?” or “What would happen if…?”

Build an Environment With a Variety of Sensory Activities

Many parents think of sensory activities as just touch activities, such as digging through sand or feeling textures. These are an important and often neglected type of sensory activity, but all the senses should be engaged during learning—if not always at the same time. In the classroom, for example, your child might:

  • Make auditory patterns with musical instruments. Patterns aren’t only visual.
  • Use letters with interesting textures to build words. This adds a level of a connection to a word, especially if the texture also helps a child recognize the shape or sound of the letter.
  • Build math concepts with actual counters and blocks. Adding a visual component to math makes the abstract concepts more concrete in the mind.
  • Sort things by sound. You child may have different triangles that all have different pitches. Your child might organize them from highest to lowest pitch.
  • Identify letters by how they feel instead of by how they look. Such a unique method helps children rely on more than just sight for basic information.

These types of activities not only encourage learning through the senses, but they also develop the senses themselves, so none are neglected or underdeveloped. Children will generally have natural proclivities for certain senses over others. As they gain confidence in their learning abilities, they can use these strengths to their advantage.

Set Up For Success

As your child grasps the basics of sensory learning, they will then be ready to take all the senses to the next level. Your child may be more observant, noticing subtle differences in colors or sounds. Attention to detail becomes a great asset in refined learning areas such as fine arts or engineering. Dynamic sensory learning can also help your child:

  • Problem solve more effectively. Approaching learning from many sensory angles helps train the brain to see things from other perspectives or to find new angles.
  • Provide reasoning and hypotheses. Sensory play is often all about discovering why things are the way they are. Scientific discovery is fueled by this attitude, but so is social change. Children with frequent exposure to cause and effect in the sensory world can expand that learning to hypothetical and abstract situations.
  • Appreciate hands-on service and work. A child with sensory experiences may enjoy tending a garden and view it as a time to learn, where another child might view it as a chore. Similarly, a teen who has made connections with the way the world works may feel more inclined to volunteer at a local soup kitchen or retirement home.

The Montessori model is based almost entirely on sensory discovery. It helps unlock the world by opening a child’s natural curiosity to the work of the classroom and beyond. For more information, contact Miniapple International Montessori School.

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