On an overcast autumn day, a voice rang out in the Lower School nature yard. “Match!” it cried.
At the sound, the entire 4PreK class came running. One by one, they began smelling one of the yard’s plants, on a mission to find a scent match to a mystery plant they had been given that morning.
Research shows there are powerful benefits of sensory learning—building nerve connections in the brain, improving fine motor skills and perception, encouraging social interaction, and enhancing memory are among them.
This activity is one of several sensory learning exercises that Kate Nevins’ and Brittney Hansen’s preschool class enjoyed this fall, and was designed to engage students’ sense of smell. Before going outdoors, each child had been given a bit of the crumpled mystery plant (wild sagebrush), which they rubbed between their hands and smelled. The group then went to the nature yard to locate a full sage plant by scent alone. “Children ran from plant to plant smelling the scent on the palm of their hand and then smelling the plant to see if the scent matched,” the teachers wrote about the activity. “As soon as a child was sure they found the right plant they would yell, ‘Match!’ and we would all come running to smell for ourselves.”
Because research shows there are powerful benefits of sensory learning—building nerve connections in the brain, improving fine motor skills and perception, encouraging social interaction, and enhancing memory among them—Rowland Hall embraces opportunities to add it to lessons. “The five senses have been a part of the 4PreK curriculum for at least the past 20 years—it is such a critical unit for four- and five-year-olds to explore,” said Brittney.
In the 4PreK program, senses are introduced as tools for making scientific discoveries and observations about the world. And sensory learning can be quite simple. For example, for the listening exercise, the preschoolers walked to the McCarthey Campus back field, where they closed their eyes and concentrated on, and named, the sounds around them. When exploring touch, the children lay down on the grass and described how the blades felt against their bodies.
Our young naturalists were encouraged to slow down and use a keen eye. We are learning that scientists have to be patient and look very carefully.
Students also learned the importance of perseverance. For a color hunt designed to engage sight, each student painted the wells of an empty egg carton a different color, then went outdoors to collect items that matched those colors. “Some colors proved to be more difficult to find,” the teachers said. “Our young naturalists were encouraged to slow down and use a keen eye. We are learning that scientists have to be patient and look very carefully.”
The unit also recommended continuing sensory learning at home. After the color hunt, for instance, the teachers prompted parents and guardians to help students find ways to use their collection boxes around the house. “Encourage your children to take the cartons outside in your yard or with you on a neighborhood walk,” they told parents and caregivers. This helps create a powerful connection between school and home (an ongoing goal at Rowland Hall) and builds early childhood skills like language development, fine and gross motor skills, and problem-solving in a pressure-free, fun way.
Interested in other ways you can bring sensory learning into your home? Check out 31 Days of Sensory Play to get started.