New Sensory Room: We have created the perfect space to develop children's curiosity and learning through the senses
The first years of life are of utmost importance in the physical and psychological development of human beings. Children who enter education today will graduate as adults in 2030. We must prepare them for jobs that have not yet been created, for systems that have not yet been invented, for solving problems that have not yet been foreseen. We must encourage our students to take charge and shape their own future: we want them to be global citizens capable of changing the world.
Taking into account the future of our students, and knowing that from an early age our thinking is built with all the information we collect from the outside, and that the fundamental channels for this collection are our own senses, we have just opened a multisensory classroom, where the little ones can work the senses in a different way, with resources and sensory elements to hear, taste, smell, touch, see, feel, understand, create, imagine … With this new innovative resource for the development of the little ones we seek to give an added value to the infant stage, a stage in which we consider essential for the school, where children lay the foundations of their learning. Through this sensory room they will be able to develop their visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory and motor skills with the result of a better future learning in all areas
Learning from the reality of touch
In the words of the school’s own director Gerard O’Donnell: “In a world that is witnessing an ever-increasing race to saturate young children in technology, we must remain alert to their innate curiosity and neurological need to explore and create. As educators we must not ignore the power of inquiry and we must provide safe pathways where the child comes first and not the device. At Agora International School Madrid we wanted to make way for the creation of a special space that supports young children in discovery and adventures with their own senses.”
This new multisensory room is made up of an infinite number of resources and is a real festival of sounds. “One of the walls of the room”, explains the coordinator, “is a glow-in-the-dark night city with LED lights, a moving crane, traffic lights that turn on, cars with keys that make noises, a Ferris wheel, and different toys related to the city”. Another wall of the classroom contains a large tube with fiber optics and fiber light bulbs that attract the children’s attention; another wall is composed of a large wooden volcano, surrounded by dinosaurs, with plastic bottles that emit aromas simulating lava. On the other side of the classroom, we find large clouds of different textures and flowers that make sounds; a giant kaleidoscope with several mirrors and interior light for the little ones to look out their heads and see their reflection multiplied. The classroom also has small kaleidoscopes, hot air balloons, planets, meteorites, light tables, luminous trees and even a teepee. One of the star elements is the fabric waterfall with light, which culminates in a ball fish tank, where children will have to find submerged fish. As if all this were not enough for their senses, in this room, there is also a jungle with large palm trees, from which hang balls of different materials that make sounds, and frogs, in whose giant mouths are hidden treasures.
When children and adults enter this room, they feel the need to touch, manipulate, smell… This feeling is key for children’s learning because it generates an emotion, and with emotion, learning begins. In pedagogical terms, experts talk about learning through touch, it will allow us to help in the development of the body schema since, through different types of receptors, we will know where our body begins and ends. The latter, which is called proprioception, is done automatically and unconsciously and will be responsible for sending constant information to the brain about where each part of the body is and how it moves, what speed is needed to perform certain actions or what pressure must be exerted on objects to pick them up, hold them or manipulate them
What are the benefits of a sensory room?
Sensory stimulation makes colors more vivid, smells more intense, flavors deeper, sounds cleaner and makes receptivity greater and the senses become the protagonists of our lives. Working in a multisensory classroom is very beneficial, as it stimulates logical thinking, and students achieve a great evolution in both concentration and coordination. In the words of the school psychologist, Lara Sainz: “our senses are the door we have to communicate with the environment, to receive information, analyze it and be able to act with it. They are the activators of our brain, the more our senses are open to the environment around us, the more we strengthen the brain and its connections and the learning processes and / or the acquisition of knowledge”. He adds that “the benefits are innumerable, in this room we use primary processing such as sensations, perceptions and sensory integration for brain development”.
Sensory stimulation is key during infancy because it brings multiple advantages:
- Enhances positive peer and adult relationships
- Encourages exploration, interaction, movement and communication
- Improves coordination and concentration
- Stimulates logical thinking
- Promotes non-verbal communication
- Teaches them to accept stimuli from their environment
- favors the child’s personal and social situation improving and developing both their physical and emotional wellbeing
- favors new alternatives in educational attention
What do children (and not so young) learn in the sensory room?
Imagine it is summer and you take a trip to a beach: the smell of the sea comes to you through your sense of smell, the sound of the waves or seagulls through your hearing, the colors of the sea, the sky or the sunlight through your sight, the taste of a typical product that can be eaten there, for example, grilled sardines, through your taste and the texture of the sand, the temperature of the water, the size of the shells or the pain of a jellyfish sting, through your touch.
It is very possible that you have been able to put yourself in the situation if you have experienced something similar before. This is because the brain integrates the stimuli provided by the senses as something meaningful, giving us back those sensations when we evoke memories. That is why the school’s coordinator, Paula Flores, believes that the sensory classroom works on something as fundamental as the senses from an early age, and “we want the youngest students to explore, manipulate and develop all their abilities in the most optimal way through the various activities offered by the classroom”.
School director Gerard O’Donnell highlights the reason for this space where “we will see children’s natural inclinations towards cooperative and creative play, research and inquiry, problem solving and the development of language and physics, the gatekeepers of true innovation.”
The sensory classroom is a space where “active learning through the senses, we could say -in the words of the psychologist Lara Sainz- is ideal for all of us, as we could see even the teachers when we saw the room, we could not resist the temptation to touch, see and smell, however, in this case it is aimed at the little ones from 4 months to 5 years old”. The classroom captivates teachers and the little ones at the school, but the meeting with the primary school children on the day they came in to see it, renaming it the “magic room”, was also striking. Therefore, “in the future,” says the psychologist, “we do not rule out the possibility that the first years of primary school will also use it, or that a primary school group will carry out a project there”.
It may seem that it is something for primary school group, but learning by touching improves fine motor skills, something essential in infants for handling small objects or performing such seemingly simple tasks as buttoning and unbuttoning a button or tying shoelaces, but equally important in primary school because it is involved in the process of learning to write where, in addition, it will help us to know the pressure with which we must hold the pen and the grip we have to do on the paper when writing.
How has the construction of the Sensory Development Space been carried out?
The creation of this room was one of the CAS activities (from the initials, creativity, activity and service) of the school’s older students. The orchestra conductor of the activity, Secondary and Baccalaureate teacher Patricia Barnabé Fernández, did not hide her satisfaction when she told us how “the International Baccalaureate students, as part of their CAS program that includes service activities for the educational community, were very enthusiastic about the idea of participating in the design of the multisensory classroom“. The CAS coordinator formed a group of students willing to set up the space, first offering ideas on how to distribute the areas and looking for materials and elements that could be incorporated to work on the different senses. Due to the pandemic and home confinement in March the assembly of the classroom had to be stopped but they did not abandon the project and during this course they have been working on the space, painting, cutting, gluing, sewing, even programming a small installation of LED lights and sound to make the multisensory classroom a reality. Everyone felt that the effort and the hours invested had been worth it when they saw the joy and curiosity awakened in the children on the opening day”.
Touching, experimenting, feeling… playing is the best way to learn.
One of the pillars of the school is to encourage multibiligüism through play, bringing out all the skills the child can reach. Hence the director, when asked about this new innovative space, explains that “each child is unique and for him everything is a learning opportunity. To guide him, he receives personalized attention, respecting his rhythms and needs, in a welcoming and stimulating environment of affection and respect. Through stimulation and communication, we help them to build their self-esteem, to manage their emotions and to keep up the effort to continue expanding the knowledge they have acquired during their early years education”.
This is another step towards the personalized, global and innovative education that we, as parents, want to choose for our children. The director of Agora International School Madrid seeks excellence in order to offer “a real educational adventure for the little ones: from 1 to 2 years old, they follow a program of early stimulation through play, with activities such as psychomotor skills, music, swimming, English, math games or artistic expression. From the age of 3, the students have most of their classes in English, to guarantee full linguistic immersion, and follow a methodology based on multiple intelligences”.