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The Sensory Classroom: Strategies for Learning Engagement

Equipped with his five senses, man explores the universe around him

and calls the adventure Science.

-Edwin Powell Hubble-

Children learn through their senses from birth

Informed by insights from pioneering psychologists like William James, educators embrace innovative approaches to multisensory teaching. Children are immersed in a sensorial world that profoundly affects their cognitive and emotional development from birth. By honouring this reality, and creating a sensory classroom, educators adopt an integrated approach to learning that caters to the diverse sensory needs of each child.  

The environment as the third teacher

The Reggio Emilia philosophy profoundly influences early childhood education, particularly in acknowledging the environment as the "third teacher" alongside educators and peers. This philosophy underscores the learning environment's pivotal role in optimising young children's educational experiences. As educators, we increasingly acknowledge the significance of engaging all the senses to enhance deeper understanding and meaningful connections within a dynamic classroom setting. 

In practical terms, this approach involves curating purposeful and aesthetically pleasing learning environments that stimulate all the senses. Every aspect of the classroom, from tactile materials to ambient scents, is thoughtfully selected to provide sensory-rich experiences. These environments encourage exploration, ignite curiosity and kindle a passion for learning. 

Amplify different senses to spark interest

A key strategy in using the environment as the third teacher is to amplify different senses to enhance learning outcomes. For instance, educators may integrate sound effects into storytelling sessions or provide tactile experiences like sculpting with clay. They also recognise the influence of lighting on emotions and behaviour, utilising it to cultivate a conducive learning atmosphere. 

Movement is identified as another powerful tool for supporting learning and expression. By incorporating movement-based activities such as dance or outdoor exploration, children are encouraged to embody their learning enhancing engagement and kinaesthetic intelligence. 

The senses and emotional tone

Moreover, educators are attuned to the impact of sensory stimuli on children's emotional well-being. Calming music and aromatherapy create a tranquil environment conducive to focus and relaxation. Consider individual preferences and sensitivities when using olfactory stimulation, ensuring a positive experience for all learners. 

Art and the senses

Art is central in Reggio Emilia-inspired classrooms, providing children with diverse avenues for multi-sensory expression. Through painting, sculpting, and other artistic mediums, children engage their senses to articulate their thoughts and feelings creatively. 

Fundamental to the Reggio Emilia philosophy is the belief in granting children agency in their learning journey. By offering opportunities for self-expression and creativity, educators empower children to explore their interests and talents with various sensory modalities. 

The senses play a pivotal role in learning, stimulating various channels in the brain and enhancing efficiency and retention. A sensory classroom cultivates a more engaging and enduring learning environment. Embracing the "what, why, and how" of sensory learning engages curiosity and ensures children invest in their learning. Senses unlock the vast array of learning languages they possess. By consistently acknowledging and harnessing the power of the senses, educators create enriching educational experiences that empower children to explore, create, and comprehend the world around them on a deeper level.


Top Ten Ways to Create a Sensory Classroom

  1. Create Fun Spaces: Make learning areas rich with things to touch, smell, and see, sparking curiosity and excitement. 

  2. Mix up Senses: Use sounds and textures in stories and activities to make learning more exciting and memorable. 

  3. Light the Way: Set the mood with different lighting to help focus and create a calm atmosphere. 

  4. Get Moving: Try dance or outdoor activities to help children learn by doing and feeling. 

  5. Soothe with Music and Scents: Use calming music and aromas to create a relaxed learning environment. 

  6. Explore Art: Allow children to express themselves with paints, clay, and other materials.

  7. Let Children Lead: Give children choices to explore what interests them and how they want to learn. 

  8. Use Tech Wisely: Try educational apps and games that engage multiple senses for interactive learning. 

  9. Enjoy Nature: Take learning outside to explore and discover nature's sights, sounds, and textures.

  10. Team Up: Encourage teamwork and group activities to learn from each other and share experiences. 

Lili-Ann Kriegler (B. A Hons, H. Dip. Ed, M.Ed.) is an education consultant and award-winning author of Edu-Chameleon for teachers and Roots and Wings for parents. Lili-Ann’s specialisations are early childhood education (Birth to 9 years), leadership and optimising human thinking and cognition. She runs her consultancy, Kriegler-Education.

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To purchase Lili-Ann's book: 'Edu-Chameleon: 7 Dynamic Learning Zones to Enhance Children's Concept-Based Understanding'.

To purchase Lili-Ann's book for parents: 'Roots and Wings - A Parents' Guide to Learning and Communicating with Children to Forge a Family with Mettle'.

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