Top Benefits for Including Multisensory Activities to Build Alphabetic Knowledge
Hanna Stroud is a Canadian Literacy Tutor, multisensory learning advocate @myliteracyspace
Have you heard the quote, “Play is the work of the child” by Dr. Maria Montessori? Children are naturally curious and love to explore new things, every day. One of the ways that we can encourage play is to create invitations with new sensory materials and activities that feed their curiosity. Using a multisensory approach is an incredible way to include play while learning new skills.
First, let’s talk about the learning styles neuromyth - a commonly-held false belief about how the mind and brain function. The learning styles neuromyth is a theory that has led many of us to think that we each have one specific learning style and that children will learn better if they are taught in a way that matches their learning style. What this means for many educators and families is that we have focused on providing one-dimensional experiences and avoided other opportunities for deeper understanding. It is a misconception that a child’s ways of learning are fundamentally different and require different educational practices. There is really no credible scientific data to suggest that there is any benefit in teaching them using only their specific learning style. While we do have learning preferences, it has been proven that providing multisensory or multimodal learning opportunities and experiences is beneficial to ALL children and critical to many.
You may have heard or said something like this, “I am a visual learner.” While visuals may be a preferred style, a multisensory approach activates multiple areas of the brain simultaneously which supports memory recall, comprehension skills, increases focus and attention, reduces cognitive load, and builds associations in the brain. Play IS a multisensory approach to learning! As children play, multiple areas of the brain are working together to solve problems, gather information, and develop critical thinking skills. The brain is able to reorganize itself and build new neuronal connections because of neuroplasticity.
“Neurons that fire together, wire together.” Canadian neurologist, Donald Hebb, used this phrase to reinforce the fact that every experience and physical sensation activates thousands of neurons forming a neural network. When those experiences are repeated over and over our brain learns to trigger the same neurons each time. A multisensory approach is using multiple pathways simultaneously. By using activities that involve multiple senses we can enhance learning patterns because it activates different parts of the brain, enhancing memory recall and processing speeds. Everyone benefits from a multisensory approach particularly when the sensory experiences are combined; it engages all learners and abilities. Many multisensory activities can be added naturally into our learning spaces because we experience the world around us through multisensory stimulation.
Visual and auditory instructional practices are often the most common ways you will see information presented in a classroom or learning space, this is typically referred to as dual coding. The ‘stand and deliver’ method is prevalent from the time a child first encounters the classroom right through to post-secondary settings. However, we can be much more purposeful in our teaching methods by combining visual, auditory, tactile, and kinesthetic activities to connect to language and literacy in meaningful ways. All of these sensory opportunities can be experienced through play.
One of the key elements that are foundational in the reading process is phonological awareness. This is the knowledge that sounds combine to make syllables, syllables connect to form words, words make up sentences and sentences help us to communicate our thoughts, feelings, and ideas. Children can develop all of these critical skills through play. By connecting the letter to the initial sound of words and building simple CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) words, children begin to make connections between phonology and phonics. This builds fluency, vocabulary, comprehension skills, reading and spelling knowledge and supports later literacy skills.
A fantastic example of a learning tool that combines play and a multisensory experience is Marbotic. This program includes classic wooden toys and a fun app-based educational game to build alphabet and number knowledge. Playing with the alphabet is playing with language. It is a great way to build letter-sound correspondences and many phonological awareness skills. These two pieces are the foundation of reading and spelling. The interactive app invites children to play with the characters on the screen in an educational way as they follow directions and place the alphabet pieces on the iPad screen. Children can practice letter and sound identification, learn new vocabulary, and build words.
Start playing with the alphabet today, your child will build important language and literacy skills as they explore letters and words.