I USE MY WHOLE BODY
to understand the world
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SENSORY EXPERIENCES for Learning
We’re born with 2 essential skills: our reflexes & our senses.
We learn when the mind is able to put together input from all senses, which make connections with past learning. The brain is always working, just as lungs breathe automatically, not stopping unless there’s major interference.
Children are active learners who need to be involved in activities using as many senses as possible. They listen to & watch adults around them, language being the glue that helps them make sense of it all. This complex of sensory information allows us to create relationships with our environment – physically, mentally & emotionally. So children need to grow up in a world that’s beautiful to smell, hear & look at.
Jean Piaget, a 20th century Swiss psychologist, described the learning process of babies & toddlers:
• From the moment of birth onward, information comes in to the brain through firsthand experiences with things, people & feelings, depending entirely on the senses of vision, hearing, touch, smell & taste.
• The brain continually assimilates (gathers & digests) information, adding all new input to what it already knows. Around 12-18 months old, children become able to form mental pictures of things, people & feelings. At this point, they start talking in their native language, which is actually a system of symbols (images). Their brains are now ready to use this existing knowledge to form new ideas, called accommodation.
For the next several years children continue to learn by depending mainly on their senses & firsthand experiences, rather than language. Gradually they’re able to picture the consequences of future events & actions in a more adult-like fashion.
• Intellectual Potential is built on our genetic heritage, but can’t be entirely predicted at birth. It’s development during the rest of life is a constant combination of assimilation & accommodation, an upward spiral through a series of stages & sub-stages, making higher & higher levels of learning possible as we adapt to our environment.
Therefore, our sensory environment will make an important difference in our lifelong learning ability. (from “Keys to Great Parenting”)
Sensory input from the outside is constantly bombarding us. We need this info for the brain to develop & continue to function properly. Although there’s still much more to learn about brain function, research suggests we may be able to use input to improve neural circuitry & thus neural plasticity – the ability of the brain to form new connections, which can continue throughout our life.
The Association Cortex is outside of the primary areas of the surface of our brain. It’s essential for mental functions that are more complex than the basic aspects of sensory stimulation which use primary sensory areas. All the senses – except for smell – are filtered by the brain stem before being sent to other areas,
info which is then:
• Screened out or ignored if it isn’t important or meaningful
EXP: Dust particles in the air are all around us, but we tend not to see them unless they’re in the sunlight, or when there are too many of them
• Noticed & assigned relevant importance, so the info is sent to the appropriate area of the brain for a response
EXP: A car honks at us & we look to see if we need to do anything about it
• Habituated or eventually ignored if the input is constant or doesn’t change much over time. EXP: Wearing a watch or ring. (MORE….)
• Senses allow us to learn, to protect ourselves & enjoy the world. They detect stimuli – anything that causes a reaction in a living organism (pain, heat, sound, chemicals….). When something is detected, receptor cells in the appropriate sensory organ are triggered, generating impulses transmitted through the nerve to the brain. The brain’s interpretation of this info will tell us how to respond.
If one sense is not working due to birth defect, accident or illness, other senses will take over or become stronger to make up for the missing one(s).
DIAGRAM: How the brain takes in information from the environment & processes it.
~ David Sousa & Patricia Wolfe (2001)
NEXT: Sensory Learning – Arousal (Part 2)