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The power of a multi-sensory, holistic approach to learning

Something I have always been passionate about during my teaching career is fostering an holistic approach to teaching and learning. As students utilise multiple senses, including sight, sound, touch, smell, taste and movement, this new information and new experiences help to organise (and reorganise) our neural pathways in the brain. Neural pathways are the connections in our brain - think of them as the brain’s “wiring.” Our brains “rewire” themselves as they take on more information and learn from experiences - in other words, learning can physically change our brains! 

By providing our brains with multi-sensory learning opportunities, we can help students move from: ‘I can’t do it!’, to ‘I can’t do it, yet!’, eventually to ‘I can, and I will!’ 

As educators and parents, we know that children learn in different ways. By finding alternative approaches to teach the same information, it allows for inclusivity, and therefore, increased engagement and motivation. When students are interested and having fun learning, they develop better memory retention which leads to improved academic performance.  

So how can we do it? Often, the best way to learn something is to experience it first-hand. See it, smell it, touch it, visit it, hear it. We can bring many elements into the classroom to support learning first hand such as growing herbs in the school garden, picking them and crushing them to release scents and oils, then examining the properties and comparing uses of the plants in medicinal treatments of the Middle Ages and today’s modern healing.

Write amazing stories with the lights off and magical music playing, bring in mystery objects and recreate a circus vibe with the smell of popcorn and the curious sounds of the Big Top! 

Experiment with the aromas and textures of cooking, kneading bread, watching it rise and wondering why, seeing it change throughout the whole process, choose the flavours and try new things. (And why not pop in a few herbs from the garden that you helped grow, too?) 

Practical experiments for science can be done simply but with huge effect. Playing with magnets, blowing up balloons and letting them fly around the room noisily, whizzing cups of water on strings around your head, making holes in things, immersing students in real time visualisations of the universe where they can control time and space… all of these things will bring to life what may be seen by some as a dull, lifeless topic on Space and Forces. 

It is vital that we try to ignite our children’s curiosity about the world they live in and spark their interest to try things and learn new skills at any age. Our brains are always ready to learn, we just have to be ready to be taught. And then given opportunities to grab our attention, kindling the inquisitive fire in our brains. 

Mrs Poole 

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