What Is Multisensory Learning?
Multisensory learning means learning through more than one sensory system at the same time. I suggest presenting information to infants using more than one sensory system. You can do this whether you are teaching your baby new words, about music, math, colors, or other concepts.
With multisensory learning, what your baby sees should match what she hears. Other sensory information should match as well.
Why Is It Important to Use Multisensory Learning?
Babies often learn more with multisensory learning than they do through a single sensory system (Rose & Ruff, 1987). Children naturally use all of their senses when exploring their environments. For example, when learning about a toy, babies generally look at the toy, touch the toy, listen to sounds made by the toy, smell the toy, or put the toy in their mouths. Babies also often use movements to help them learn and this can help them gather additional information.
According to Edelman’s Theory of Neuronal Group Selection (a theory about brain development), more elaborate brain connections form when multisensory learning occurs compared to single sensory learning. Multisensory learning reaches visual learners, auditory learners, tactile learners, and physical or kinesthetic learners.
Be as Precise as You Can with Sensory Information
The sensory information is locked in time from the different sensory systems, so it is much better if you add extra sensory information that is relevant. For instance, if you are counting your baby’s toes while she or he watches, say each number at the precise instant that you touch your baby’s toes. This would give your baby three types of sensory information (visual, auditory, and haptic). If you gently move each of your baby’s toes at the moment you say the numbers, then you would also be adding kinesthetic information.
Incorporate Multisensory Learning to Make Daily Routines Multisensory Experiences
Think about the ways you spend time with your baby, then add more sensory information to these experiences that could help your baby learn. For example, when you are washing your baby, name your child’s body parts. Try to name them at the precise moment the cloth touches your baby’s skin. When you are talking about what your baby is seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, tasting, or about your child’s movements, carefully match your words to describe your child’s experience. In other words, if your baby is experiencing a flower, describe how the flower smells, looks, feels, and even how it sounds. Do this while your child is smelling the flower, looking at the flower, touching the flower, and listening for sounds as you and your baby move the flower.
Use Multisensory Learning to Acquire Languages
Allowing your baby to see and hear languages at the same time will give your babies more information compared to learning through one sensory system. Encourage your child to use touch, smell, taste, and to do physical actions related to the meanings of the words. Applying this multisensory approach to language acquisition allows your baby to learn English and other languages through more sensory systems.
For example, you could draw your baby’s attention to your mouth while speaking. This allows your child to see and hear words as they are formed. It is even better to add touch and movement. Movement is sometimes called a sixth sense for babies since they gather so much information this way. 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. If the word is nose, your baby would have more multisensory information if all of the following occurred:
- your baby sees and hears the word nose (visual and auditory info.)
- your baby sees your nose (visual info.)
- someone touches your baby’s nose (touch/haptic info.)
- your baby touches his nose while looking into a mirror (kinesthetic, haptic, and visual info.)
- your baby smells something with his nose (olfactory info.)
- you describe and show what is happening as it happens (auditory and visual info.)
Edelman, G. M. (1987). Neural Darwinism. New York: Basic Books.