Sensory Activities for Science

Instructor: Elizabeth Diehl

Elizabeth studied to be a special education teacher at Regis University, and received her masters in 2014.

Although you might be tempted to put these two areas into different categories, science and sensory activities work really well together. Here are some ideas and guide points for combining science with sensory activities.

Consider the Senses

Are you looking for ways to help your students connect to science? Consider incorporating sensory activities into your science curriculum.

First, consider the unit of science you are trying to extend, more specifically what parts of the unit you'd like students to explore with their senses. Sensory experiences can include those related to hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting and touching. The more chances children interact with and experience new information, the stronger the neural pathways will become in relation to this information, so all students can benefit from the thoughtful inclusion of sensory activities.

Second, think about how students can use one or more of their senses to explore a particular concept. For example, if a unit is about insects, have students close their eyes and use their fingers to feel and guess the identity of different objects, or imitate how insects rely on antennae to find their way around. Whenever you begin a science/sensory experience, encourage students to really focus on what they are experiencing.

Use Existing Rotations with New Units

When you begin a new science unit, consider combing the material with your usual sensory activity rotations. If the unit is about seeds and plants, add acorns, beans and other seeds or nuts to the rice table or sand box. Task students with sorting the items and noticing how they are alike or different from each other. Or, have students press seashells and sticks in modeling clay to explore how fossils are made.

How could you add acorns to your favorite classroom sensory activities?
acorn hands

Record Creatively

An important part of science is learning to record and document what we notice and learn. For many students, writing is a difficult and an extremely stressful part of science class. However, that does not mean they are exempt from recording what they've learned. Allow students to draw their findings instead of writing them down after an experiment.

For example, students could cut out pictures of different types of flowers from magazines and create a diagram to illustrate the parts of a flower. As they cut or gently tear out the pictures they need, they'll be participating in a sensory activity by actually ''feeling'' the outline of a particular flower.

Physically Study the Subject

Take time to really allow students to physically explore a concept; you might be surprised what they find. For a flower unit, provide some floral specimens and magnifying glasses and allow students to study the flowers. Afterwards, have students share what they observed. Perhaps they noticed that the center of a daisy is very bumpy and covered in pollen.

Or, if you are studying birds, have a collection of bird feathers on hand for students to feel and study. Then ask students if they noticed any differences among the feathers and or made any connections between their observations and facts from the unit, such as how an owl's feather is different from a crow's so that the owl can fly silently.

Take a Walk

When your class is studying natural science topics, there are few better ways to learn than outside the classroom. For example, take a walk under some trees, and have students gather leaves or wildflowers. If you've been studying the weather, observe some clouds, notice the temperature and talk about how the seasons change. Even if the weather is less than optimal, walking and thinking about science can be a positive way to connect science with sensory activities.

A nature walk provides sensory experiences, while students think scientifically.
nature walk

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