Multiple Intelligences in Phonics Instruction: Learning Letters Through All Five Senses

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Lois McCue uses multiple intelligences to teach letters and phonics as part of an integrated curricum in

Learning Letters Through All Five Senses: A Language Development Activity Book
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Discovering, the child learns

Imagining, the child learns

Listening, the child learns

Creating, the child learns

Smelling, the child learns

Touching, the child learns

Playing, the child learns

Singing, the child learns

Dancing, the child learns

Walking, the child learns

Tasting, the child learns

Loving, the child learns

Living, the child learns

Moving, the child learns

Seeing, the child learns

Doing, the child learns

How do we teach young children? We let them imagine, touch, taste, love, and do. Even in our classrooms, we help children absorb life and knowledge through their own experiences. As teachers, we select and plan those experiences.

Children learn about the world, not through logic, but through their senses–their eyes, ears, noses, tongues, fingers. Over 300 years ago, John Amos Comenius described how children learned in his day, and it sounds like any pre-schooler you might meet in a classroom today:

“Those things, therefore, that are placed before the intelligence of the young, must be real things and not the shadow of things. I
repeat, they must be things; and by the term I mean determinate, real, and useful things that can make an impression on the senses and on the imagination. But they can only make this impression when brought sufficiently near.

From this a golden rule for teachers may be derived. Everything should, as far as possible, be placed before the senses. Everything visible should be brought before the organs of sight, everything audible before that of hearing. Odors should be placed before the sense of smell, and things that are tastable and tangible before the sense of taste and of touch respectively. If an object can make an impression on several senses at once, it should be brought into contact with several. . . . ” ¹

In this book, the letters of the alphabet and their phonetic sounds are taught in a way that uses all of a child’s senses. Most of us, including children, learn quickly with our eyes. When our learning also comes through our ears, we learn more quickly and remember more effectively. I feel children learn best when seeing and hearing are combined with the other senses in the learning situation.

By including all the senses, by letting children learn with their entire bodies, we can increase the richness of their awareness. We are laying the foundation for a lifetime of understanding the world in a way that is comprehensive. In learning the letter, for example, see how varied the children’s experience can be:

  • push an imaginary box over their head
  • smell perfume
  • dance to a polka
  • sing “Polly Put the Kettle On”
  • mold “P” out of play-dough
  • read a story that starts with P
  • find something in the room that starts with P

That’s a lot of experiences, isn’t it? Each of them could enrich a child’s understanding of the world. We wouldn’t use all of them in a given situation. We would choose activities that were right for a particular classroom of children.

You know children, so you know what excitement lessons like these will cause. When you open doors to nature, invite the children
into science through experiments, let them experience the beauty of music and art, you teach them to reach out to the world.

As you use this book, remember education in the early years comes from living. Knowledge cannot be imparted from one to another,
but experiences can be planned that require active participation that will help the absorption of that knowledge. Seeds of curiosity
can be planted. Children won’t retain all that has been taught in a given lesson or activity, but engrams (traces of the experience)
will remain and surface in the future. Children are like sponges; they are capable of absorbing and retaining a vast amount of knowledge–and they do this best through the use of their senses.

In each experience, all of the senses, and motion, will be used. Each child should participate in at least one segment, but no child should feel he must participate in all of them. Be flexible and select the activities which you feel are right. Keep in mind that different children, as well as adults, learn best through different channels. A child who doesn’t “get” an idea through sight and sound, may pick it up beautifully through motion or touch.

Because the experiences are free flowing, you can work with the children’s individuality. There is no need for hurry, impatience, or harsh
judgments. Pokey children can be free to poke; often it’s the dawdlers who master and remember. The children can respond to you in groups, or one by one. Shy children and your sociable ones can learn side by side.

Although the experiences allow you and the children great freedom, their design is similar from session to session. This similarity offers security to the children–they know what to expect. They can look forward to being actively involved and challenged. Each experience should help your children develop and learn those skills which they must have later on, in order to read and write. I’m talking about skills such as effective listening, knowledge of environment, recognizing similarities and differences. The bibliography can help you draw up a list of developmental tasks you’d like to work on with the children. The tasks would be part of your underlying programmatic guide.

Each experience begins with a background explanation which may describe the materials you need or it may describe the developmental and educational tasks involved.

Before beginning, there are four things the children must know how to give and use: attention, courtesy, self-control, and respect for
others. You can help them with these, by working in a circle. This makes the time special. As the lessons progress, the children’s
attention, courtesy, self-control, and respect for others will improve.

Having set up the ground rules that a child in the circle must show (attention, courtesy, self-control, and respect) you will introduce the experience. Then it is the child’s time: time for active learning. This learning will take time and repetition. My six year old daughter used to pull her twin friends in a wagon up and down our hill, for days and days that stretched into weeks. She needed to repeat that task over and over again until she mastered it. When she was satisfied, she quit. Learning ideas also takes time and repetition, so give your students plenty of both.

To help with repetition and time, there are many activities for each letter. In all of the experiences you can let the children themselves select activities which will increase confidence, independence, and the ability to make judgments.

The experiences and follow-up activities in this book only scratch the surface. A teacher can employ the five senses and body movements
to teach a concept in countless ways. It has been my intent to share this fundamental method of teaching, not to dictate lessons to other teachers. I want to share what has worked for me and been fun for children.

¹ George S. Morrison. Early Childhood Education Today.

Columbus, Ohio; A. Bell & Howell Company, 1980.

This excerpt is taken (with permission) from:

Learning Letters Through All Five Senses: A Language Development Activity Book

by Lois McCue

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Page 7-9. ISBN: 0876591063

© 1983. Gryphon House, Inc.