By Kaila Weingarten, MS Ed
We use our senses to learn every day without even realizing it. With your fingers you decide that the pot is too hot to touch without a towel. You answer the door after hearing the bell. An acrid odor warns you that something is burning. You look into the mirror to see if two colors match or clash. You taste a savory new salad and decide to ask for the recipe. All this is a seamless thought process, with our senses responding automatically and gracefully each time.
The brain of a child is still changing and learning from each experience. In the first years of life, each experience is new. Therefore, rapid changes occur in the brain. The brain is also flexible and ready to learn. Exploring with senses builds connections in the brain, if it is done with love and consistency. If they are not maintained, these connections will not last. Children who have no opportunity to explore remain with a small brain. Studies with abused or neglected children found that children who were rarely touched or spoken to and who had little opportunity to explore and experiment with toys, had brains that were 20-30% smaller than children their age. (Ounce of Prevention, 1996)
Each new outing, and every project you enjoy with a child helps his brain grow. Providing meaningful experiences, letting her explore the environment in a safe manner, talking and playing along with your students will enable them to reach their full potential.
· Play dough is a great activity. Children have fun squishing, pounding, and rolling with fingers and palms. Plastic cookie cutters and a small rolling pin enhance the experience. For even more fun, create your own play dough. Use washable paint to create colorful dough that will not stain everything. This is a wonderful stress releasing activity.
· Have fun with a homemade touch and feel bag or box with a few objects. Ask your student to stick in his hand in the partially closed bag and find the object without looking. Or, you can ask what object he feels. You can connect this to your lesson, putting in objects that pertain to it. Use it as an interesting starter to your day.
· Play gentle music and songs during the day. Alternate between new and familiar songs.
· Point out the different hues and colors in books or art projects you are working on.
· Painting can be a fun and messy. Connect your latest lesson plan to an idea that children can paint. Students who learn through tactile and visual experiences will thrive with this.
Taste and Smell
· Children love to squish, taste, and lick foods. Be sure to draw your student’s attention to the aromas of foods prepared for snack and lunch time.