Understanding The Importance of Sensory Learning
Sensory learning is a popular, creative and innovative approach to education that encourages children to explore the world around them and experience things firsthand. By engaging their senses, children can interact with new environments, materials, and textures that enrich their understanding of the world. The benefits of a sensory curriculum cannot be overstated. This hands-on learning style suits many learners, allows creative teaching and promotes critical thinking and understanding of cause-and-effect relationships that are experienced through sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste.
I am a great fan of Flo Longhorn and urge you to read her seminal book a Sensory Curriculum for Very Special People. It is a brilliant starting point for designing your own sensory provision.
Sensory Curriculum Design
A well-designed and planned sensory learning curriculum encourages exploration without fear of consequence, allowing children to gain a comprehensive understanding of their surroundings and become comfortable in different environments. It also makes learning more enjoyable, enhancing enthusiasm for education. The benefits of a sensory curriculum are most evident when it is linked to robust learning outcomes with personalised learning opportunities. As SEN and EYFS teachers we need to go beyond just putting shaving foam in a tough tray.
The Benefits of Sensory Learning
Sensory learning has numerous benefits, especially for children who find it engaging. It allows children to use their five senses to conceptualise thoughts, explore unfamiliar concepts, and reinforce knowledge in ways that traditional methods can’t. It also encourages creativity, allowing children to experience challenges that call for innovative solutions.
Sensory or experiential learning may help some children to remember concepts longer than extended teacher input or presentation style teaching forming a strong foundation of skills well into adulthood.
5 Benefits of a Sensory Curriculum
- Engages multiple senses – Learning through senses like sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste engages more parts of the brain compared to just one sense like hearing or seeing. This makes the learning experience more engaging and memorable.
- Hands-on approach – Sensory learning uses hands-on, interactive methods that allow students to actively explore concepts going beyond just reading or listening about them. This keeps students motivated and having fun while learning.
- Deeper understanding – Using multiple senses helps cement new concepts and promote deeper understanding. Students can literally experience what they are learning rather than just think about it abstractly.
- Authentic learning – Sensory experiences feel “real world” to students. They learn how things taste, smell, feel etc, relating new ideas to things already familiar to their senses. This aids retention and application of knowledge.
- Brain development – Exploring the world through the senses stimulates different areas of the brain and encourages neural pathways to form between areas. This supports cognitive processing and development in children.
The Cons of Sensory Learning
Despite its popularity, sensory learning does have potential drawbacks. It might create a dependence on sensory input, preventing students from developing functional independence. Using tactile or auditory methods can also be costly and time-consuming in terms of resources. This may lead to a disparity in provision making it less accessible for all students and smaller schools.
It is too easy for new teachers to fall into the Instagram trap of spending hours on beautiful displays. Tough tray layouts that take hours but have no evidence base for improving learning than more simple ideas. It is clear many teachers are passionate about developing unique sensory learning experiences. I worry about the time and their own money that they spend on creating them.
Educators must weigh the pros and cons carefully when deciding the level that they want to incorporate sensory learning into their curriculum and timetable. It should be used alongside other pedagogical methods, providing a balanced approach to learning.
The Power of Multi-Sensory Teaching Techniques
Multi-sensory teaching techniques stimulate learning by engaging students on multiple levels. They encourage children to use some or all of their senses. These techniques are particularly beneficial for children with learning differences. The strongest argument for sensory learning is that making use of the five senses when teaching enhances learning.
In a multi-sensory teaching approach, more than one sense is utilised to help a child learn. While the sense of sight and hearing are most commonly used in traditional teaching methods, sensory learning includes the sense of touch, taste, and smell. One of the benefits of a sensory curriculum is helping the child’s brain to develop tactile and kinetic memories, supplementing auditory and visual ones.
Examples of Sensory Learning Curriculum
Recognising the importance of the senses as a gateway to all learning. Effective sensory curriculums will tailor appropriate provisions to fulfil every child’s potential. This is particularly crucial for children with sensory processing difficulties.
Through sensory play, schools can provide opportunities for children to use all of their senses. Activities such as Sensory Stories, Sensory Circle time, Fun with Food, and Sensory Gym provide a rich environment for children to explore and experience movement. These sensory experiences are not an end in themselves, but rather a means of broadening and developing the curriculum.
The ImPACTS Curriculum
The ImPACTS curriculum encompasses diverse realms of learning, mirroring the developmental milestones and advancements outlined in Education Health Care Plans. Across distinct domains such as Communication, Cognition, Environmental Control Technology, and Self-Advocacy, the Impact Assessment System illuminates a precise trajectory for cultivating skills. This comprehensive breakdown charts the progression from pre-intentional stages to the realm of formal learners, facilitating targeted and effective pedagogy.
Links to School Sites With Sensory Curriculums
I thought it would be useful to provide some links to different ways schools implement their sensory curriculums. They all see slightly different benefits and rationales but there is clear commonality. Remember that to be effective the paperwork must be backed up by passionate staff who want the children they teach to succeed.
- Two Rivers School Sensory Curriculum
- Saxon Wood School – Sensory Curriculum Intent, Implementation and Impact Document
- Ash Meadow School – Sensory Curriculum Long Term Plan
- SENDat Outreach – Sensory Learning Document
Requirements For a High-Impact Sensory Curriculum
To gain the most benefits of a sensory curriculum there are a number of requirements that schools should ensure are present.
- Employs teachers and support staff with skills relevant to individual learners’ needs and provides ongoing training and professional development to build expertise.
- Is well-resourced with an ongoing budget and a library of sensory resources that are maintained by accountable staff.
- Recognises each learner as a unique individual and plans activities to support their education, health, therapy and well-being holistically.
- Links learning were possible to EHCP outcomes.
- Focuses on hands-on, interactive learning through meaningful activities tailored to learners’ interests, abilities and sensory preferences.
- Challenges limitations by empowering learners and families to take assessed risks that facilitate growth.
- Adopts flexible styles adjusting to each learner’s sensory, emotional and health needs which impact access to learning.
- Values that many learners primarily experience the world through their senses and limit non-sensory demands like speech.
- Employs the modes of communication most meaningful for each learner to feel understood.
- Does not aim to alter learners’ sensory experiences but rather delivers a curriculum addressing their sensory needs.
- Allows time for processing new information through the senses before expecting behavioural responses.
- Interprets responses through open sharing between educators to best understand communication intents.
- Views all behaviours as a means of communication and strives to comprehend each response’s underlying message.
A Sensory curriculum is particularly beneficial for very special children, extending and integrating it throughout the national curriculum. MSI (Multiple Sensory Impairment) can affect children’s ability to gain information from and about their environment, slowing down the pace of learning. Thus, a curriculum designed for pupils with MSI must begin with them and their needs, emphasising a sense of self, agency, and negotiation, and encouraging progression in terms of new learning and the extended application of existing learning.