Every early learning activity builds the foundation for later learning. Early learners spread paint with their fingers, imitate sound, observe the world and use taste to build upon their knowledge of objects in the world. Sensory learning is brain development work. The traditional five senses in addition to the systems that help us to balance and determine our body position in space must coordinate in order for young students to learn in the years to come. Parents and educational systems today are focused on ensuring that activities help children to become readers and writers. Rest assured that the finger paint, play dough, sand, songs, animal sounds, taste tests and sights of early childhood classrooms are setting that stage.
Because adults have been readers and writers for a long time, we forget the complexity of the task. Sensory development helps us to:
- Properly hold pencils and pens – Development of our sense of touch helps us to know what we are holding and to feel the correct positioning of writing tools.
- Hold pencils and pens with the correct pressure – There is no mathematical or scientific formula that young children memorize to hold writing tools with the correct pressure or to press down with just the right force. This ability requires coordination of the fine motor muscles and our sense of touch.
- Turn pages – To separate the pages of a book, you need to feel thickness and maintain the proper hold on the pages. We are using both our fine motor skills and sense of touch to go from one page to another.
- Put our hands on books and paper – We coordinate our sensory input with proprioception (our intuitive sense of space and position) to move our hands to the correct place in space. The two systems needs practice working together to succeed at this task.
- Replicate the rhythm and beat of language – Hearing songs and imitating those sounds from the time we are infants strengthen the brain connections that allow us to read and write with the proper tones, volume, stops and pauses.
- Understand that the written word is the spoken word – Children do not instinctively understand that those shapes on a page are what you are saying when you read. They need to have developed observational skills so they can watch you point to words, say them and explain that the letters stand for those sounds.
- Become critical thinkers – We explore from the time we are born through our senses. Infants are drawn to sounds, sights, textures, smells and tastes. Their brains begin to organize information in a way that compares sensory experiences. They begin to wonder, question and experiment. It all begins with the first time they see your face or feel your embrace.
- Sort and categorize – Very young sensorimotor learners use all of their senses, including taste, to sort the objects in the world. It typically takes approximately 2 years for young children to understand the taste of food vs. non-food, what is good for their mouths and what is not. They learn that some things are too hot on their hands and others very cold. This is the foundation for scaffolding learning, reading comprehension and mathematical skills in the future.
When young children are deprived of sensory experiences or are placed in front of one dimensional worksheets too early, there are brain pathways that are not strengthened. When early childhood teachers get the sensory box, they are doing pre-literacy work!
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