Tuning up the senses
Be creative when getting ready to learn, it makes everyone more receptive, says Louisa Leaman
Understanding how pupils with profound and multiple learning difficulties experience and learn about the world is an unusual process, and progress often seems slow and small-scale. A method I tried with success is a "sensology workout" with my pupils. Sensology, an educational approach devised by Flo Longhorn, a special needs expert, emphasises sensory stimulation for early learners and those with SEN, who need to learn how to control movements and relate to themselves and others.
It covers the five basic senses (see, hear, touch, smell, taste) but also the movement-related sensory systems: the vestibular (balance, head movements and gravity) and the proprioceptive (body positions, body mapping and planning movements).
In a sensology workout, these senses are literally given a warm-up. Sessions can be in groups or one-to-one and can be brief (five minutes) or, if pupils have physical limitations or take time to respond, done at a slower pace. The workout with my pupils lasts 30 minutes. Hoisting and positioning can sometimes double this time, but it is important to get pupils comfortably and safely set up so that they get the most out of the session.
A session begins with music that draws pupils in. Everyone then takes turns identifying themselves in a mirror, which usually starts the smiles and laughter. Then, one by one, the senses are worked through. Each one is named and indicated (e.g. "I have eyes") and then put to work.
Working the eyes might involve bright torches and reflective surfaces such as CDs. The nose might use strong smells on cotton wool, such as peppermint oil or vanilla. The ears would use a drum, played quietly and then loud. The mouth would be tastes: honey or icing sugar. The body would involve movements such as rocking, squeezing or patting, or perhaps tickling. The session winds down with a goodbye song and clapping.
It all looks simple fun, but the active learning is considerable. And the most encouraging thing is seeing a class full of happy, alert and motivated pupils.
Louisa Leaman teaches at Waverley School in Middlesex.
Next week: Louisa visits a multi-sensory room.