Homeschooling and Sensory Processing – Homeschooling

Our world is a kaleidoscope of sensations! We see, feel, smell, taste and hear what’s happening all around us. Our senses tap into our emotions making us feel happy, excited or frightened or even aggressive. Homeschooling makes it easier for parents to design lessons to use sensory processing to improve children’s attention, memory and learning. Homeschoolers can use all the sensory experiences around us to stimulate children’s interest. If the sensory input is over-bearing for your child, you can reduce it and work in a quieter, calmer place. Teachers understand this but cannot have the same level of flexibility in designing lessons as Homeschoolers do. Homeschoolers are in the best position to use the senses that work best for their own children. Muti-sensory or multi-modal teaching is teaching which uses many different sensory inputs.Words and senses link together; words can evoke memories of sights, smells and sounds, even of feelings. Senses can evoke memories; but not all are happy or positive memories. Think of how you feel when you smell something which reminds you of childhood visits to the dentist! Not to mention the irritation we feel and difficulty we have concentrating on anything when we have an itch or a 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. How comforted we feel when we cuddle up into a warm, soft blanket! Some of us prefer spending 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 sensory-seekers, who actually function and concentrate better when they have intense sensory input. Sensory-avoiding people are more inclined to want to curl up in a corner when there is too much noise or action. Sensory-avoiding children can go into “shut down” when there is too much sensory input for them. You will notice then that they seem unable to think or to follow your instructions.A child in the wrong sensory environment for their own specific sensory processing, will be negatively affected. Their ability to concentrate, focus attention and process the information will be diminished and they will struggle to learn. 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 allows the flexibility to present your lessons using the sensory diet that is best suited to your child’s needs. If your child is a sensory-seeker, you can fill the lessons with lots of pictures, movement, touch and even smell; but if your child is a sensory-avoider, you can find out which sensations help him to feel comfortable and happy for learning. This must be one of the main benefits of homeschooling – you can arrange the environment according to your child’s specific sensory processing and help him to concentrate and learn.Homeschoolers 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 math 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 and Dads 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 reduce his concentration. Homeschooling parents can adapt your lessons to your child’s sensory processing needs. This is not pandering to your child, this is optimising his learning! Which is what every parent and teacher wants.Teachers in formal schools still can make many adaptations. It is not only homeschoolers who can design lessons with sensory processing in mind; although it is easier when you don’t have a large number of children in a big class. In formal classes, the teacher needs to use a multi-modal teaching approach and be aware of the children whose sensory processing is being negatively affected by over or under stimulation. When you decide which desk a child should sit in, be aware of the position of the distracting window and which children are sitting near them. Allow movement-seekers a short movement break by letting the class do 5-8 star-jumps next to their desk after each lesson and always be aware of how the volume and tone of your voice affects the children’s ability to hear and register what you are teaching. Teaching in a formal school setting is more challenging than it is for homeschoolers; but adaptations can be introduced to even these formal school lessons to ensure that all the children in the class are able to function at their true level and show themselves and the world just how clever they really are. Be aware of the different sensory processing of the children in your class and you have the key to effective lessons. Happy children, comfortable in their sensory environment are better learners.Great lessons make great learners. Great learners become tomorrow’s great minds!SHARON STANSFIELDRead more articles for advice from an Occupational Therapist with decades of experience in learning and child development. Find out more about: ADHD; Dyslexia; Dyspraxia; pencil grip: