“Touch enables to connect sight and hearing.”
Grenoble researchers demonstrate the benefits of multi-sensory learning.
A team of researchers from the Laboratory of Psychology and Neurocognition in Grenoble (LPNC) has just shown that touch facilitates learning to read because it allows a better connection between sight and hearing. This research, published in the magazine “PLos One”, should improve teaching methods of reading for children and adults learning a foreign language.
To read new words, one must learn to associate a visual stimulus (letter or grapheme) to its corresponding auditory stimulus (sound or phoneme). Edward Gentaz’s team (LPNC) wondered if touch could improve these arbitrary associations between visual and auditory stimuli. Hence, the researchers compared two methods of teaching in which adults had to learn 15 new visual stimuli, inspired by Japanese letters, and their 15 corresponding sounds (new auditory stimuli are meaningless). The first method only urged sight. The second multisensory method appealed to both touch and sight.
After the learning phase, the researchers measured performance of each adult using tests, visual and auditory recognition. Results showed that they were capable of learning associations between visual and auditory stimuli with both methods but their performance was much higher with the “multisensory” method.
These studies confirmed the results already observed on children, with the use of motion assisted by computer in the writing learning process. This is explained by the specific characteristics between the senses of touch and haptic (touch to perceive the letters) that would act as a “glue” between sight and hearing, thereby promoting the connection between these senses. We still need to understand how this “connection” works in our brain. In order to do this, researchers plan to observe in IRMF the cortical areas activated during this process of multi-sensory learning.
This study highlights something that Maria Montessori had discovered for more than a century. In a Montessori classroom, from an early age, we focus a lot on developing the sense of touch with children.
The majority of early learning is, indeed, by using touch in a kindergarten classroom, where the sensory part includes a range of materials to develop this sense: the touch pads by which the child becomes aware of the sensation of smooth and rough (see photo) and then others touch pads that allow the child to pair, blindfolded, pads which have the same roughness. Then he can classify from the rougher pads to the smoothest ones and consequently refine his sense of touch.
Other exercises exist such as “mystery bags” which is a very entertaining material that you can safely make at home by following these steps: take two identical small bags (see photo). Close them and create two openings on each side so that your child can slip his hands to catch what’s inside. Put in each bag identical objects that children can easily recognize by touching them. Take the two identical objects out of each bag and put them on the table or the carpet in front of him. If the child is very young (2 years), put five very different objects (eg, 2 bikes, 2 figures, 2 balls, 2 cows, 2 small pencils) and for an older child, put a dozen objects that are more challenging to recognize. You should always introduce a new vocabulary lesson. You can also make two bags with geometric solids and thus introduce the name of each volume (see photo).
Another possibility is to create a box of tissues (see photo), which consists of a certain number of pairs of fabrics of different textures. The child should also set them into pairs only by touching them. Again, you take the opportunity to teach your child the names of various fabrics: terry cloth, silk, velvet, leather…
All these exercises develop the fineness of touch. With the hand directly connected to the brain, they greatly enhance the development of intelligence.
The exercises that we showed above are to introduce numbers and letters. This learning can start from three years old, by touching rough numbers and letters. Following the shape of the number or letter with his finger your child will print permanently this form in his brain.
Maria Montessori envisioned and implemented this method in her first classes in 1907!
She also created a material called “the rough world” that enables the teaching of earth and water covering our planet. Earth is represented by a rough surface and water by a smooth surface. The three-year-old child, by touching these different surfaces, understands the space occupied by continents and quickly realizes that there is much more surface area occupied by water than by land, on the globe.
From a very young age, the child also understands all geometrical shapes through the touch sense using a material known as the “geometric cabinet” (see photos).
This cabinet is composed of several drawers within which the child first discovers the basic shapes such as the circle, the square or the triangle. Each form fits into a framework. The child begins by touching the geometric shape and its frame then he reinserts the correct form in the corresponding slot while learning the name of each forms.
But before naming it, the child integrates it by touch. So he can discover very young all the kinds of triangles, circles of different sizes, polygons, etc…
When later the children will be introduced to geometrical concepts in its school books, he would have already, precociously, memorized in a sensory way the name and shape of every geometrical forms.
This proves once again that the teaching methods used in Montessori classrooms is the best. Every scientific studies prove it today.