Think back to your school days with me for a minute – can you remember a time when something you were learning about really came alive?
For me, I remember falling in love with microbiology the first time I was finally able to focus on a tiny critter with a microscope. I knew there are microbes everywhere, but there was nothing like really seeing one with my own eyes. As a homeschool high school student, I know that a microscope was no small investment for my parents, but I’m grateful they let me hunt through a drop of pond water under a lens on our kitchen counter.
There were other times that also stick out in my academic memory. I remember a lady dressed like a frontierswoman handing me a jar of cream and telling me to shake it until it turned into butter. I remember spreading that butter on some fresh-baked gingerbread that she pulled from an ancient oven.
I remember going to a college production of “A Mid Summer’s Night Dream”, noticing the inflection in the voices of the actors, and finally understanding what all those Old English lines meant when I heard them spoken aloud.
All the times that learning really came alive for me, it was because of an impression that was made on one of my five senses – seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, smelling. And even now I can bring up those sensory memories and personal experiences, and they enrich my knowledge of those subjects to this day.
I’m sure if you think back, you could say the same. There is probably some concept or person or idea that you remember better because someone gave you a five-senses experience that brought it to life for you.
As a homeschool mom of five young kids now, I want to find ways to create those kinds of experiences around the things I am teaching them. Not only will it hopefully help the lesson stick in my kids’ minds, but I know it will also give them memories of our school days to look back on with fondness.
In the day-to-day of school at home or virtual school, it can be hard to think of ways to integrate the five senses with our learning – but I have a few ideas to share!
1. Use Manipulatives
Manipulatives are anything that you can touch and move around to teach something to a child. They are often used in math, especially for the younger grades, but why not incorporate appropriate manipulatives for other subjects too? Kids can practice constructing their letters out of playdough or noodles, or write with a lap-sized chalkboard or dry erase board to add more interest. They can handle actual rocks or pinecones or seeds when learning about related science topics. Many companies make small plastic toys that represent different historical figures or time periods, which can be an enriching tool when teaching history or Bible. Bonus if whatever manipulative you use happens to be edible!
2. Incorporate Audiobooks or Read Aloud
Hearing a book read is so beneficial for children. Not only will they be practicing good listening skills, but there are other benefits. It allows them to interact with books that are still above their reading (but not their listening) level. Vocabulary is enriched by hearing a book read aloud, and kids can learn the correct pronunciation of certain words by hearing them instead of just seeing the letters on a page. Many textbooks are available as audiobooks, but finding an interesting story or nonfiction book that is related to their studies can bring a subject alive.
3. Add Music Into Your Day
This is something I am still working on, but I would love to add more music into our homeschool day. Soothing background music can lift everyone’s moods, but we can also lookup music from a historical time period or composer we are studying. We can use songs to memorize useful facts or Bible verses. We could probably even find birdsong tracks or other nature sounds to add to our science topics.
4. Make The Food
This idea is especially useful for history, social studies, or geography. When a certain type of food is mentioned in the course of the curriculum, why not do a little internet search and figure out how to make it yourself? If you involve your kids it can provide good hands-on experience in the kitchen, and your house will be filled with (hopefully!) good smells. I think taste and smell are some of the most powerful memory-making senses, and there is no better way to make a history lesson come alive!
5. Field Trips
No matter how much we read about something in a book, there is nothing like actually seeing our object of study in person. Field trips often include many of the five senses – seeing a historical site with your own eyes, perhaps handling a rare type of rock or insect, tasting food from a country we may never get a chance to visit. Most of the things that stand out from my young school days are the field trips my mom planned for my siblings and me, and I’m thankful now for the effort she put into giving us real experiences.
6. Get Outside
This is an obvious suggestion for science-related subjects that involve the physical world – don’t just read a book about deciduous trees, go out and find a real-life example in nature!
But I also have to say, as a former homeschool student myself, just studying outside was one of my favorite things to do. I would often sit on the porch or the trampoline as I did an assigned reading – the sun warmed my back, the wind blew through my hair, and I could smell the seasons changing.
Even though it didn’t relate specifically to whatever I was studying, being outside broke up the monotony of my work, and it is something I look back on now with a smile. Maybe I remember the definition of a covalent bond better because of the fresh air and sunshine, or maybe not. I can’t truly say. But sometimes involving the five senses isn’t just about making the lesson stick – it’s also about making a memory. I’m glad my mom didn’t insist I do my work inside when there were autumn leaves and chirping birds calling my name.