As a teacher of preschoolers, you may be informed by a parent of a child’s special classroom needs. Obviously, if a child with a hearing disability is in your class, the parent may inform you of specific accommodations you must make. However, some learning challenges cannot be diagnosed in children during their preschool years. So, to best address the needs of all your little students, incorporate learning experiences that stimulate all their senses. For children who learn in non-traditional ways, you are offering them a variety of paths to explore their world.
Look around the classroom to assess what you already provide. Make a list of each area (dramatic play space, shelves where puzzles, games, building toys are stored, art supplies, etc). Under each, list the five senses. Check off which senses are used to do these activities. For example, puzzles require sight. Are they colorful? Are the pictures on them interesting to four year olds? Puzzles also require touch. Do you have foam puzzles as well as wooden ones? How many textures do they provide (smooth, bumpy, fuzzy, etc.)?
Note that most puzzles do not stimulate hearing, taste and smell. After you completed this inventory, look over your list. The sense of sight will probably be well provided for in any classroom. Don’t worry about having an equal amount for each sense. However, do consider what you can add where your classroom is lacking.
It is likely that the sense of taste is one of these. Do you serve snacks? If so, how can you vary the taste experience? If not, are there science experiments with food you can introduce? Edible art projects? The sense of smell is closely related to that of taste, so you can encourage the children to smell as well as taste these projects.
Then encourage children to identify smells. Popcorn? The classroom gerbil cage? The paint at the easel? How many smells can they identify in a morning?
Hearing is a sense that can be easily over-stimulated in children in our noisy society. With the children, take one minute to enjoy silence periodically. Also be choosy about what sounds you use. Introduce restful music when the children are painting and drawing. At group time, listen to short parts of famous pieces, such as Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” or music from the “Nutcracker.” If you can obtain a recording of bird calls, have children listen. Provide pictures of these birds in books or online. Then listen again.
You may not need to add much for the sense of touch. Blocks, dolls, balls, plants, paint, books, and many dramatic play props offer a variety of textures. Art projects can easily provide additional ones. Paint with sponges, sliced potatoes and carrots, cotton balls, or combs. Add cornmeal or uncooked rice to finger paint, or have children finger paint on aluminum foil, fine sand paper, waxed paper, etc.
When the children are with you, talk about your observations: I think I heard a blue jay outside; This orange feels cold on my teeth but tastes delicious; I like the way this satin cape feels. Enjoying your own senses will help children become more aware of their own, and this awareness will foster appreciation as well as learning.
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