Five multisensory activities you can do with your child at home

By Dr Susie Nyman Curriculum Manager for Health and Social Care

Multisensory techniques are what it says on the tin - 'techniques using the five senses!' It is beneficial for all children when they have fun learning in a variety of different ways. Using multiple senses stimulates numerous areas in the brain, making new connections, which helps with learning and creating stronger memories. Whilst a child is learning in a relaxed way, stress is reduced, and their brain develops new multisensory associations, decreasing frustration and cognitive load and increasing concentration and focus. Additionally, the brain has a way of restructuring itself so that it can be better adapted to ever-changing situations. This is called neuroplasticity.

Many children can only remember five to seven pieces of information at a time. As we all live in a multisensory world, why not help your child by providing multisensory associations as 'hooks' or 'pegs' to retain their new knowledge in a fun, joyful, creative way? Here are my top five fun multi-sensory techniques to try with children at home.

1. Food

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Next time you are eating your five a day, look a bit more closely because many of them look like familiar body parts. Children can use these to visualise the body parts and remember their function better in the future. For example, a chopped carrot looks like a human eye, slice open a tomato and see it looks like the inside of a heart. Alternatively, chop a mushroom in half, and notice it looks like a human ear. These associations provide a visible reminder to help children picture the structure clearly in their mind’s eye and recall the information later.

Spaghetti or homemade vegetable noodles are great for stimulating the senses taste, touch and smell. Courgette and carrot noodles are useful for children in early years for practising letter formation. Vegetable or cookie cutters can be used to create random shapes which are amazing for generating thoughts for story writing. Dried pulses can be used for measuring probability in maths or estimating populations in geography.

2. Puppets

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Puppets are amazing as a multi-sensory prop to help awaken a child’s attention and concentration as well as to encourage imaginative play. Of course, puppets do not have to cost the earth, and can be simply made from anything at home such as a sock or even papier-mâché.

They can offer hours of endless fun for role play, providing an emotional context for children to remember a story whilst making connections between existing knowledge and future leaning. All children have a passion for storytelling, and puppets encourage creativity and imagination as well as visualisation and verbalisation between children. This improves their social, emotional and communication skills which can have a positive impact on their wellbeing.

Children can thoroughly enjoy using puppets in drama and theatre for role playing animal, human or fantasy characters. They are amazing props for re-enacting historical events such as The Battle of Hastings or the D-Day landings in history. Likewise, in science they can be used for discussing topics such as the importance of healthy eating or comparing different kinds of rocks.

For children with speech and language or visual impairments puppets are perfect for learning and practising sign language as well as teaching them body language such as facial expressions, gestures and body movements.

3. Modelling clay and balloons

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For early years, modelling helps to improve children’s fine motor skills, curiosity, communication, problem-solving skills as well as resilience. Whilst experimenting and trying out different ideas during modelling, things often go wrong; persistence and perseverance helps children to overcome obstacles and eventually succeed. The list is endless of materials that could be used, from newspaper and PVA glue for papier mâché models of The Romans, paper and card for making castles, cardboard boxes for constructing spaceships to recycled materials such as toilet roll tubes for making caterpillars or trains. Why not include natural materials too such as pinecones, twigs, bark and leaves for creating large collages and 3D pictures?

Modelling clay can be an ideal method for engaging dyslexic students using all five senses. Initially, the child could watch a video about a topic such as dinosaurs, brainstorm the ideas, and then sketch out how they plan to make the model. Materials such as modelling clay or salt dough can be easily made in the kitchen at home. They can be used to make models of the earth or a plant cell, and adapted for use for children across the ages and stages. Other materials could be added providing different aromas and textures such as essential oils (e.g. peppermint or lavender), fruit, chocolate, dried pasta shapes, googly eyes or wooden beads.

For primary children, modelling clay can be superb for making contour maps in geography. For history, it is handy for making personal armour and historical artefacts such as Tutankhamun’s death mask and Stonehenge. For science, it is a valuable tool for visualising and explaining body parts and the planets.

4. Sticky notes

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Dyslexic children often have processing difficulties, particularly with sequencing information. Sticky notes can help visually and kinaesthetically by manipulating the child’s fine motor skills. A ‘stop and jot’ comprehension strategy can be used at any age to record a child’s thoughts when listening to and reading a story and revisiting them later in order to resequence the narrative. This activity could be repeated watching an educational video for subjects such as history, French, geography or science.

Using sticky notes can be valuable for identifying key characters in a play, brainstorming key words for an essay or sequencing events in history for instance World War II. Additionally, they are useful for classifying and ordering scientific processes as well as sequences in geography such as the formation of sedimentary rock.

5. Pipe cleaners

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Pipe cleaners are wonderful for stimulating the senses of sight and touch. Dyslexic children are better able to absorb and process information in a retainable way when using senses such as sight and touch because they are ‘doing’. Consequently, it makes learning more interesting, fun and engaging for children.

Pipe cleaners are terrific for letter formation, spelling, making shapes, counting, creating constellations, and measuring with early years children. This not only improves their fine motor skills but also can help them connect with visual and auditory senses, improving memory and learning. Ideas for secondary school children could include making stick men and role-playing events in history or religious studies.

Dr Susie Nyman is curriculum manager for health and social care. She has 25 years teaching experience, is an examination assessor and author.

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