Multi-Sensory Learning in the Lower School

Posted by Laurel Shockley - 02 February, 2018

IMG_4908.jpgHands-on learning? Experiential learning? Multi-sensory learning?

There are many terms for it, but for teachers of young children, presenting lessons in a way that integrates the use of multiple senses is natural.


We know that young children are concrete learners, finding the most success with hands-on methods, doing rather than watching. When a child is “doing,” he or she is integrating the use of his or her senses. The most obvious benefit of using multi-sensory teaching techniques is seeing children who are engaged and having fun while learning. Multi-sensory teaching techniques have major benefits for all children.

Each student learns differently and processes information differently.

Each student learns differently and processes information differently. Depending on his or her individual personality and cognition, he or she will have a preferred way of receiving information. We find that some children are strong auditory learners and can easily understand concepts by listening to an explanation. Other children might be able to process the concept best by drawing it out on paper. Some children are strong visual learners, preferring to watch a play, while others might prefer to act out the play during the learning process.

Multi-sensory teaching techniques have major benefits for all children.

Multi-sensory learning techniques ensure that children of all learning types are provided with a means of understanding the information presented.

Multi-sensory learning environments accelerate cognitive development. 

Each sensory system has targets in the brain that stimulate this cognitive function. Tactile learning promotes fine motor skills, kinesthetic learning promotes body memory, and the olfactory and gustatory systems provide strong sensations that remain connected to the information processed. For these reasons, when students process information that is connected to another sense, they can conceptualize and later apply that information better than students who simply watch and listen. Multi-sensory teaching techniques stimulate the brain in a variety of ways so that each sensory system becomes more developed and higher functioning.

At Randolph, we are committed to using multi-sensory teaching methods  because we know that it is the best way to improve essential functions of the brain.

Multi-sensory teaching methods improve:

  • listening skills,
  • movement,
  • vision,
  • tactile recognition
  • and conceptualization.

Take a tour through the halls of our Lower School and you will find examples of multi-sensory learning everywhere you look (or move, or see, or touch!)

Here are 10 ways that we build multi-sensory learning into our program.


1. NeuroNet

Our kindergarten and 1st grade students begin their day with a research-based learning readiness program designed to help students develop fluency in essential reading, math, and handwriting skills. All of their senses are engaged and we know those neural pathways in the brain are being strengthened with each session! You can read more about NeuroNet here and see a video about how we use it here

2. Everyday Math

We use Everyday Math as the basis for our mathematics curriculum in grades K-4. The theoretical framework for this program is based on teaching through student experiences. The program includes math manipulatives that put the abstract mathematical ideas into concrete objects that are manipulated by students. In fact, these math manipulatives and games are the basis of the program. These hands-on experiences are where we start with our students. Once a child understands a concept through experiencing it, he or she can begin to then understand the symbols that represent that mathematical concept on paper.

3. Handwriting Without Tears

IMG_4946-623388-edited.jpgOur students learn to write using the Handwriting Without Tears program. Children move, touch, feel, and manipulate real objects as they learn the habits and skills essential for writing. The multi-sensory approach that begins with our kindergarteners using wooden letters, chalk, wet sponges, slates, and finally paper results in not only accurate and neat handwriting, but automatic handwriting that allows the student to focus on the content of what they are writing. Handwriting remains a critical skill in the classroom. In order for children to be successful readers, writers, and ultimately, communicators – they need a strong foundation.

4. Foreign Languages

IMG_4953.jpgOur foreign language teachers, Mrs. Vega and Mr. Knickelbein, incorporate multi-sensory learning in their French and Spanish lessons on a daily basis. The students are up and moving, often acting out or using puppets to show the meanings of what they are saying in a different language. The children are singing in Spanish and French, and even making foods to taste or smell.

Our foreign language teachers don’t just teach vocabulary words. The students manipulate objects that represent the words. Big projects include making a family tree, having a soccer tournament representing the French-speaking soccer teams, or participating in a French or Spanish market. All of the senses are engaged, which means there are a lot of neurons firing in those growing and learning brains!

5. Science Lab

It is no secret that the science lab is a favorite spot for all of our students. The reason for their enthusiasm is no mystery. Our students know that when they walk in the science lab, they will have an experience in which their senses will all be engaged. Mrs. Wolfe and our grade-level teachers work together to make sure the hands-on experiences in the science lab connect to the content information they are teaching in the classroom. For instance, when the 2nd graders are learning about the Iditarod in their classrooms through books and digital resources, they are also experiencing how arctic animals are equipped for surviving the cold temperatures through their senses in the science lab. 

6. Simulations

Immigration Simulation - 4571940.jpgOur 4th graders experience many learning simulations throughout the school year. Our Oregon Trail simulation in the spring is one many of our alumni remember from way back.The Oregon Trail experience has evolved to include elements of design thinking, for example, and we have looked for more ways to use that approach as a model for other activities.  When learning about immigration, for instance, our students become real people making the voyage to America. Each child is given some facts about a person including the country he or she will be coming from, his or her family, and other information that will be important. Our students must use their imaginations to complete the story of the person whom they are depicting. On the day of the trip, students dress the part and go through a process similar to the real immigrants on Ellis Island. There are doctors to give them some tests when they arrive. Of course, many are speaking a language they do not understand when they arrive as well. Some of our immigrants end the day successful and some do not, but all have learned through all of their senses what the process of coming from a foreign country to Ellis Island was like, and it is not likely that they will forget. 

7. Interim

Our students enjoy a week of alternate learning activities in the Lower School during Interim. Students have a choice about the topics they will be studying for the week. These topics range from hiking to space to animation to birding. Our specific goals as we plan for each Interim cluster are that they

  • be valuable and unique,
  • end with a product, performance, or service (some way to share the learning),
  • be cross-curricular and multi-sensory,
  • be developmentally appropriate,
  • include a visit from a professional in the field or a field trip (if possible),
  • be small (10 or fewer students).

Young brains love novelty, and changing it up for a week of learning differently is novel and brain stimulating! Interim is a week no child wants to miss and no child forgets.

You can see more about Interim in the Lower School here and see how Interim experiences are  an integral part of Randolph's K-12 experience here.

8. Music

Mrs. Hoppe is a master at engaging all of the senses. Students learn the fundamentals of music through singing, dancing, movement, and playing musical instruments. We are so fortunate to have the Orff instruments for our students to use during music instruction. There is clear evidence that playing a musical instrument can positively affect brain health and function. It can improve mood, increase intelligence, and enhance learning and concentration. By building musical experiences into the schedule multiple times each week, we know we are giving our students’ brains a learning advantage.

By building musical experiences into the schedule multiple times each week, we know we are giving our students’ brains a learning advantage.

9. Fundations

IMG_4988.jpgFundations is a multi-sensory phonics program that we have just begun this year in kindergarten and 1st grade. We did a great deal of research to find a phonics program that we felt would give our students the best foundation for reading. The Fundations curriculum provides multi-sensory lessons that benefit every student in the classroom, starting early to prevent reading and spelling failure.

The Fundations program teaches five areas of reading:

  • phonemic awareness,
  • word structure/phonics,
  • fluency,
  • vocabulary, and
  • comprehension,
  • (plus spelling).

It is an Orton-Gillingham program that incorporates current reading and writing research. The program presents the structure of language in a systematic, cumulative manner and uses multi-sensory techniques (visual, auditory, tactile, kinesthetic) to teach all concepts. 

10. Kindergarten Garden

Our kindergarteners use the gardens outside the classrooms for many multi-sensory learning experiences throughout the school year. Our youngest students learn so much from planting seeds and watching them grow. They learn about the seasons, through the decomposing of their pumpkins they get at the pumpkin patch in the winter to the new vines that sprout in the spring. There always prove to be unplanned learning experiences in the garden as well! Chippy the chipmunk has led our kindergarteners into design thinking challenges to keep him out of their plants!

Multi-sensory learning activities are at the heart of the Lower School.

Multi-sensory learning activities are at the heart of the Lower School. We continue to devour all of the new research about neuroscience and what it tells us about how young children learn. We are always looking for ways we can improve our teaching in order to reach every child’s needs. Incorporating multi-sensory learning in everything we do gives us assurance that we are not only helping our students make and strengthen connections in their brains, but giving them the tools to continue to make new connections for a lifetime.

Interested in seeing our Lower School program in action?
Schedule your visit today!

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Topics: Kindergarten, learning, neuroscience, multi-sensory learning, brain development, neuronet, orton-gillingham

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