Advances in neuroscience and brain-mapping mean that we are uncovering how the human mind learns. This is continuing to refine the most effective ways of teaching children new skills.
At a brain level, we are born with most of the neurons where information is stored, however there is a huge amount of growth and development required to build the connecting pathways which allow communication between these storage centres of the brain. Pathways increase in size and number when we learn skills, practice and experience new things and are taught new information.
Not only are we continuing to grow new pathways, the brain undergoes constant cycles of ‘pruning’ where inactive pathways are removed so that we are left with the strongest and most efficient routes.
When children are learning new skills, using a multisensory approach can be helpful to enhance memory and learning. The more ways something is learned, the more memory pathways that are built. The stronger the pathways become, the less likely they are to be pruned away.
Lets use the example of learning letter formations. We can learn how to form a letter through many different sensory systems:
- Auditory System: Providing rhymes (e.g. for the letter ‘a’ “first comes the apple, then the stalk”) or verbal prompts (e.g. “b goes down, up and around).
- Visual System: Providing visual cues (e.g. a green dot to indicate starting position, an arrow pointing in the correct direction and a red dot to indicate where to stop). Using visually enticing pens: changer pens, window markers etc.
- Movement System: Making large body movements (e.g. jumping around letter shapes, driving cars around letter outlines or tracing letters in the air)
- Tactile System:Writing in different mediums (e.g. rice, shaving cream, sand)
Each time we use a different sensory system, we make connections to different areas of the brain which strengthens the learned information. This means that children then have a better chance of being able to recall and use this information at a later time. In relation to letter formations, building increased pathways means that there is more chance of being able to quickly and easily remember how to form the letters. This then allows for a solid foundation so that more cognitive energy can to be devoted to higher level writing processes such as generating content, spelling and punctuation.
Chat to one of our helpful Occupational Therapists to find out how multisensory strategies could assist your child’s learning!
-Kate Kleinau, Occupational Therapist