Cognitive development is the construction of thought processes, including remembering, problem solving, and decision making. It is, therefore, an important part of any sensory classroom, and you, as the teacher can plan some great activities to promote active learning.
Here are some ideas to get you going if you are new to sensory teaching, or just in need some new ideas or even reassurance that you are doing great as you are!
- Object permanence– a fancy way of saying things exist even when out of sight- explore a toy or an item your pupil really likes, give the pupil time to explore and engage with it. After some time, can you partially hide it? Drop it? Can the pupil find it/ do they show awareness that it has gone? You can also ‘hide’ items of interest in boxes and bags of all different shapes and sizes. What can you find? This can be made into a really fun game that can be played again and again, linking with every topic.
- Measure- have fun exploring empty an full with your pupils- fill tubs with sand, flour, gloop, water, scented water, pebbles, soil (to name a few!) and help your pupils as much as they need to fill cups and empty them. Extend this activity by encouraging tracking and interaction.
- Shape and space– shapes are all around us, and we don’t have to stick to a box of 2D/3D shapes, fill a box full of interesting everyday items and coactively explore their qualities, bring in a few simple shape songs too! Can we build with the shapes? Can we build a tower and anticipate it being knocked down? Can we put things inside them? Can we hide the shapes in sand or coloured water and develop our fine motor skills as we grab them? We could even attach the shapes to an a-frame and encourage reaching and grasping.
- Counting– this can add cognition to any activity you are doing, for a thematic approach to learning! Count fingers and toes during massage, count beats on a drum in music, how many times you can dap your paintbrush in art or even count in French! Number rhymes will never go out of fashion, but make them more appealable to sensory learners by making touchy feely props (these can be kept and brought out time and time again).
- Collecting- We love to get outside in my sensory classroom, and with the initiative of forest schools, there is no excuse. Go out to your playground or woodland area and collect natural items. Back in class count and sort your items. What have you found? Could you use a light box to focus on your findings? What shapes are they? Can other pupils build to your collection?
- Sorting– Once you have your collection, can you help pupils sort items into two simple groups? Although this can be quite a difficult task for sensory learners, if they are feeling and exploring and listening to you all the way through, they can get so much out of it.
- Treasure boxes– can you create a stash of sensory treasure boxes to have available for those times in between sessions, or when you have to change the positioning of another pupil and need a quick, stimulating independent activity to hold pupils for a short time? These can be really useful, especially in observations when you don’t want pupils to be doing ‘nothing’. Fill low tubs with interesting items, maybe one for each sense. Have themes for your tubs- natural, jungle, household, shape etc so they can easily link into your topics. Watch your pupils explore; can they manipulate the objects? Or, enjoy explore them together and note the pupils’ responses over time.
- Cause and effect– doing something to cause an effect on something else. This is a fundamental skill of communication, so it’s really important to make time for this. Play games such as will a cup with water or sand, and dropping it over a tower to knock it down. Is the pupil aware she has made that happen? Use switches in your class, that are linked to control electrical items, so you press the switch and the action makes the item work. Does the pupil show awareness they have the control?
So cognition can be fun and exciting! My final tip would be to ensure that in all activities try to make sure your resources encourage and awaken each of their senses, and as always, have fun!
My school plans half termly, using a theme to bring all the subject areas together. I always find a really good, exciting book or poem and break it down into really small steps, which can be linked to all curriculum areas.
At home, I have a 2-year-old son, so we do enjoy a few Cbeebies programmes. The other day, we watched a sound poem recited by ‘Magic Hands’ and it was wonderful, and got me thinking about how wonderful this could be at the centre of a topic. So, I had a google and found a similar sound poem (The Sound Collector by Roger McGough), and here are some examples from verses 1 &2 of how I would use this for a whole term, bringing in a wide range of cross curricular links. (I’m using loose curriculum areas as each school is different, and the topic could well be anything you like, as you could change some of the words to fit into a theme 😉 ) Hopefully I exemplify how to expand on certain words and phrases in order to get creative and exciting with your planning ideas!
Please message me if you ever need ideas on your sensory themes as this is my favourite bit!
Literacy/ communication and language-
- Make each verse into a sensory poem by finding lovely props for each line, this can make a nice whole class starter activity, or be lengthened into a small group activity.
- Develop communication strategies
- Develop mark making throughout using various media as stated in poem- crumbs, bubbles, cereal etc.
- Develop tracking- left to right and up and down.
- I find Literacy can fit onto lots of the activities below….
- Each week use number rhymes, counting, shape/ colour activities running alongside the following
- Verse 1- put items in and out of bags/ develop object permanence/ sort items into bags
- V1- explore telling the time/ explore daily routine/ explore night and day
- V2- make toast/ cut it into quarters etc/ hand out plates and toast to each child
- V2- fill a tuff spot with cereals, glitter, sand and dig!! Explore, fill, empty, pour.
- V2- make cornflake cakes exploring measure. Add cornflakes to cornflour to make interesting gloop.
- Verse 1- Explore strangers/ family members/ people around school who help us
- V1- can we practice and refine dressing skills/ look in mirror use props to make ourselves look different
- V2- can we share our cornflake cakes with friends from other classes?
- V2- A scraping noise can sound horrible! What sounds do we like/ dislike? Can we share our likes with a peer?
- Verse 1- what can we carry/ grasp/ lift/ pass
- V1- fine motor skills- feel and explore bread crumbs, add glitter and sand to make it extra sensory/ explore on a light box.
- V1- turn locks, explore toys that can be pulled/ turned/ slid
- V2- crunch cornflakes with our feet- what other textures can we walk over/ feel with feet/ hands?
Understanding the world-
- Verse 1- Explore morning routines
- V1- explore sounds as stated/ use a switch to control the kettle
- V1- explore animal sounds
- V2- make toast, explore and taste different toppings
- V2- popping! What else can we pop? Explore different textures and of course make bubbles. Can we make gloop that might pop? What about popcorn!
- V6- I would really explore the word silence, with reflection and mindfulness in mind.
Expressive arts and design-
- Verse 1- what sounds can we make?
- V2- explore bubble art/ bubble printing/ bubble paint
- V2- spread with marmalade- paint with orange scented paint/ what else could we spread?
- Experiment with sensory paint- add colours, textures, foam, scents.
- V1-6- could you make a fab display of sound socks or gloves? Filling said items with lovely sensory items for children to feel and think about?
I have had the pleasure of working with a lot of very different pupils over the years, each with various learning difficulties and multi-sensory impairments. I have always found teaching a child with a visual impairment and a severe learning difficulty really, really challenging. Even with the support of MSI teachers, and teachers of the visually impaired, I still struggle with new ideas, but here are a few pointers and activities that may help you, if new to the visually impaired.
- Communication– get your school up to date on TASSELS. This is an on-body signing method that can really support your P1- P3 pupils. Just concentrate on a few signs per child, that will cue them into the most important sessions of the day, e.g. eat, drink, hello, movement.
- Communication– Objects of Reference- these are object cues that you will use to cue your child into every activity. The objects should be exactly the same in every class across the school for good continuity. Some examples that we have used are; a spoon for dinner time (if the child is fed orally), a cup for drink time, some fabric for home time (to represent the coat). Your school can pick out the most important things on the timetable, and decide on your own cues, personal to your school.
- Routine– try to keep things quite samey, so the child can become familiar with your class and become more independent in their actions. Keep your classroom lay out uncluttered and unmoved as then the more mobile child can explore and find things with greater independence (and less accidents).
- Time– give the child plenty of time to respond to instructions and exploratory activities. Ensure the pupils can explore their
environment wherever possible to find out where they are and become familiar with it.
- Positioning– I always get picked up on this in observations; position your child with VI in a way that the light is coming behind them, not in front of them, or try to work in a more darkened area if possible.
- Texture– find really interesting sensory objects to explore relating to your theme (see my blog on renew, reuse, recycle!) I recently saw a class team develop a sensory wall, high contrasting items, reflective items, textured items, noisy items. Of course the pupils were encouraged to make items for the wall, through use of exploration and choice.
- Texture– create a sensory book, where each page of a story has a tactile item on it to explore. This will also encourage page turning, listening and sharing.
- Sound– when one sense is impaired, the others are more sensitive, so a lot of children with visual impairments will enjoy music and sound exploration. Use sound or music cues as part of your daily routine and enjoy familiar sounds and rhymes together.
- Sound– create a sound story, where each page has a focus of a sound rather than a texture
- Sight– most VI pupils do have some vision to work with, so following guidance from your MSI advisor, work in a dark tent exploring interesting lights/ shiny/ reflective items.
- Smell– create ‘smelly’ boxes relating to your topics!
- I will add more as I experience more good practice from my fellow sensory teachers 😉