By Dr. Bob Titzer
Multi-sensory learning means learning through more than one sensory system at the same time. In other words, what your babies see should match what they hear. Other sensory information should match as well. According to Edelman’s Theory of Neuronal Group Selection, more elaborate brain connections form when multi-sensory learning occurs compared to single sensory learning. Multi-sensory learning is good for visual learners, auditory learners, tactile learners, and physical or kinesthetic learners.
Using multi-sensory learning with your babies will give them more information compared to learning through one sensory system. For example, with language babies typically learn language skills with their ears. Obviously, babies who are allowed to see and hear language at the same time have more information. One of the first jobs young infants need to figure out in order to learn words is to determine where words begin and end. Babies who only hear language may take longer to figure this out compared to babies who are allowed to see and hear language at the same time.
Applying this multi-sensory approach to language acquisition allows your baby to learn English and other languages through more sensory systems. For example, your baby would see language at the same time as hearing it – instead of only hearing it.
It is even better to add touch and movement. Movement is sometimes called a sixth sense for babies since they gather so much information from movement. If your baby does a physical action related to the word that involves touching, then your child should have even more brain connections related to the word. For example, if the word is “nose”, your baby would learn about the word ‘nose’ better if all of the following occurred:
- your baby sees the word nose (visual info.)
- your baby hears the word nose (auditory info.)
- someone touches your baby’s nose (touch/haptic info.)
- your baby touch her/his nose (kinesthetic info.)
- your baby smells something with her/his nose (olfactory info.)
- you describe what is happening as it is happening
Ideally, provide the above information very close together in time or give this information several times with more than one sense (visual and auditory; visual and haptic; auditory, haptic and kinesthetic, and so on). Your infant or toddler has tens of thousands of new synapses every second and many of these new brain connections go from one sensory system to other sensory systems. Providing multi-sensory information should give your baby a better understanding of the word “nose” and according to Edelman’s Theory of Neuronal Group Selection, it provides more elaborate brain connections.
Imagine adding the written form of language to the spoken form and encouraging physical actions related to those words as you are naturally talking to your baby. This could lead to more efficient brain development than the typical way most children acquire language skills.
Currently, most children learn spoken language over about a 4-year period before being introduced to written language. Learning in the traditional manner may cause the area of the brain for spoken language to be very developed by age four and the area for written language to be undeveloped. According to brain research, a new area of the brain is used for written language when learning to read at traditional ages. If, however, your baby is learning written and spoken language concurrently, it is possible that your baby’s brain could adapt to be more efficient. This is logical since about 75% of the mass of the brain is developed by age two.
Use multi-sensory learning when helping your baby learn about math, music, shapes, languages, or other topics. For example, match several senses at the same time when counting with your baby. Studies show that young infants perceive when visual and auditory stimuli match in number and when they don’t match in number.
For counting, I used round, safe lids from frozen orange juice containers because my babies could see them, hear them, touch them, move them, and stack them. Start with a clean surface with a plain background and no objects. You don’t want the background to have some pattern that might cause the baby to perceive additional objects. Add the objects at the same time that you count aloud. Another option is to have several objects on the surface and gently hold your baby’s hand and touch and count the objects at the same time.
We will be adding a multi-sensory video demonstrating some of these tips in the future.
Remember, one of the keys is to try to match the sensory information in time, so try to be as precise as you can. Again, match at least two sensory systems and more when you can.
As always, have fun while teaching your baby and your child is likely to enjoy it as well!