Learning from National Senses Day

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Today is celebrated as National Senses Day. As we emphasize the senses of smell, touch, taste, sight and hearing, the season of summer gives us time and a nature classroom for our children to explore, meet their curiosity drive, experiment and learn.

When teachers are teaching young students about their senses with different science units, children truly enjoy doing hands on lessons with their different senses. We as parents and teachers have to be cognizant of individual children and their sensory needs. For example, children with autism may have sensory issues of seeking or avoiding. As a teacher, when I have taught students with autism in the classroom, I am aware that certain loud sounds, tones of voice, lights, big groups, crowds or even smells may upset them. In “teaching children environments,” whether it be sports, church activities or civic activities, or activities with family and friends, we have to take into account the personalities and learning needs of different children. Also, we see that sensory awareness and needs extend from young children to the elderly. It is a basic need for the young and old. So many intergenerational activities and projects can be shared when it comes to the senses.

I’d like to share a few general suggestions of sensory stimulation to keep your child’s learning happy and alive during these summer days. Senses’ discoveries allow a lot of questions and discussions.

The rising sun in the early summer mornings gives us opportunities to see brightness as well as the warmth of the sun on our bodies. This presents questions on why does the sun give off heat? When does the sun give off heat? When does the sun give off the most heat? How can we cool off? Answering these questions encourages children to observe, feel and use critical thinking skills to expand learning. Also, you can bring up that we have to rub on suntan lotion in the summer to protect us from the rays of the sun. Many children love to smell the lotion. In working with elderly patients one on one as an activity assistant in skilled care, I learned that, for them, scent of suntan lotion is reminiscent of happy memories of relaxing days by a pool or seaside, or it might bring up warm, happy memories of family picnics.

Noses like to explore the sweet smells of summer outside. Honey-suckle and magnolia blooms smell so good. One game that teachers love to play with their young students is to place different nature items and foods in bags for children to smell and guess what the items are. This is an activity that can be facilitated between the young and old as an intergenerational, shared, fun time. Suggestions on foods are chunks of watermelon, bananas, orange slices, lemons, apple slices, etc. Another item, along with fresh flowers, is fresh cut grass. Have the children close their eyes and smell the contents in the bag. Give the children time to express what they are smelling. Encourage them to express themselves by using words like sweet, luscious, sour, etc. After playing the guessing game they can enjoy eating and tasting the snacks.

 One social activity I love to do with intergenerational outreach is for young and old to enjoy a delicious glass of homemade lemonade. This brings back so many memories of lemonade stands and a delicious, cold, citrus, tangy delight poured over ice cubes. The young and old alike truly enjoy a refreshing beverage on a hot summer day. Cold popsicles can also be enjoyed by young and old on a hot summer day. Young children love to listen to older people on how summers used to be, and we baby boomers and seniors love to talk and be listened to as we share with children.

The summer is a good time to take a sound field trip. When taking children out to play I explain to them that we will take a quiet walk and listen to different sounds as we walk to the playground. Children are very attentive to birds chirping, bees buzzing, wind blowing, the sound of traffic or sirens, construction going on, etc. We sit down before we play to share the sounds that we have heard. I am always surprised at what children have heard. Parents, this can be done too on an evening sound field trip with frogs croaking, katydids, crickets rubbing their wings together to make chirping sounds and insects such as mosquitos buzzing. One extra lesson that you can teach your children about is that some individuals, some children, are deaf. Share with children easy sign language in songs and other communications. Also, explain to children that sometimes we have to speak a little more loudly and clearly with our older family members and friends if they are hard of hearing.

Summer offers so many beautiful sights to observe. Children love to play “I Spy” with different colored nature items. Assign colors to your children then send them out to find nature items of the color they have been assigned. Examples are yellow flowers, red berries, green grass and brown or black sticks. During your nature “I Spy” game you can include the sense of touch as your child feels the different textures of nature items and describes what they feel. Explain to your children that some people cannot see. To experience this and to understand blindness, blindfold your children and guide them as they move about. Blindfolding and playing “Pin the Tail on the Donkey” is a way children can experience blindness and be guided by friends. I hope this Celebration of Senses Day prompts you to embark on some summer fun.

Beth Pinyerd, Classroom Observer

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