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We live in a world filled with a myriad different sensations! We see, smell, feel, taste and hear what’s happening in the world around us. Our senses tap into our emotions and make us feel happy or excited, frightened or even aggressive.
That feeling of apprehension you get when you smell something which reminds you of childhood visits to the dentist! How comforted we feel when we cuddle up into a warm, soft blanket! Not to mention the irritation we feel and difficulty we have concentrating on anything when we have an itchy or stinging insect bite!
For some of us, lying on a blanket under a tree, surrounded by grass, flowers and birds is our idea of heaven. Others would sooner choose to spend their time in a warm bath, with candlelight; while others just want to be in the middle of a big, noisy party!
Yes, we all have different sensory processing and therefore different reactions to the sensory world around us. Some of us are sensory-seeking and want lots of movement, action and sound around us. This energises the sensory-seekers and they can actually function and concentrate better when they have intense sensory input. Others of us are sensory-avoiding and feel like curling up in a corner to hide when there is too much noise or action around us. These children can go into a “shut down” state and you will notice that they seem unable to think or follow your instructions. If a child is in the wrong sensory environment for their own specific sensory processing, it will have a strong effect on their ability to concentrate, focus attention and process the information you are trying to teach him. Often children are labelled as having Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) or Attention Deficit - inattention type (ADD) because their sensory processing is responding to a sensory environment in a way that makes it very difficult for them to learn. Whether or not your child actually has ADHD or ADD, they will be more in control of their own behaviour and more able to learn if they are in an environment best suited to their sensory processing needs.
Homeschooling can be an option if your child seems to constantly be under-performing. If your child is homeschooled, you will be able to give them the sensory environment most closely suited to their own learning needs. This must be one of the main benefits of homeschooling - you can arrange the environment according to your child’s specific sensory processing and thus help him to concentrate optimally on the work he is learning.
As a homeschooler, you can choose whether your child’s worksheets and books use a lot of colour and pictures or are “quieter” books with less visual stimulation. Homeschoolers can easily arrange for their child to leave his desk and have a short movement break, such as shooting a basket-ball through hoops for five minutes before returning refreshed and re-energised to learn the next part of the lesson. Learning mathematics tables while bouncing a ball, can easily be part of a successful homeschool lesson. On the other hand, if your child needs a quiet, still environment in order to concentrate and be in the ‘just right’ energy state for optimal learning, you can place his desk in a quiet part of the house, talk quietly when teaching and not have too many pictures and posters around him.
What is important for homeschooling Mums is that you make a conscious note of your child’s sensory needs. Watch him carefully and find out what seems to energise him and what seems to drain his energy or interfere with his concentration. Then work with that. As a homeschooling Mum, you can adapt your lessons directly to optimise your child’s attention. This is not pandering to your child, this is optimising his learning! That’s what every parent and teacher wants.
What about children who are not homeschooled? Is there any way teachers can help them achieve the just-right sensory environment for their attention and cognitive energy? Homeschoolers might be able to stop a lesson for a child who needs a movement break but a formal class, with twenty or more pupils, is going to be very if every time a different child needed to move, the lesson was stopped for a short game of basketball. Also, the movement that brings one child into a just-right level of energy, can send another child into a hyperactive energy level that stops his concentration; and what then about the child who goes into “shut down” when surrounded by all this movement and excitement?.
It is more challenging for teachers in formal schools than it is for homeschoolers; but there still are many adaptations that can be introduced to your lessons. Being aware of the different sensory processing the children in your class have is key to designing effective lessons, with happy children and a happy teacher.
Great lessons make great learners. Great learners can become great minds.