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Study Skills: The Power of Using Multiple Senses

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Girl Learns about Molecules

When you need something right away, it’s great to have a backup that you keep in a second location. If you keep duplicate car keys or spare sunglasses in a drawer by the front door, you have quick access to them when you are in a crunch and can’t find the originals in your purse or jacket pocket. The same is true for having duplicates of information available in multiple locations of your brain. Learning, reviewing, and practicing new information through different senses, like seeing the information, hearing the information or experiencing the information through movement, results in its placement in multiple memory storage areas. This means more efficient access to the information when it is needed for the test…and beyond.

You can help your children cement new memories more efficiently and power up their access to remembering the information when they practice or review by helping them use multiple senses while studying. Here’s how it works. When something is learned or practiced using a variety of different senses, there is duplication of the memory stored in multiple parts of the brain. For example, when one memory, like remembering a painting at a museum, is activated, other memories, like if the room was hot, cold or smelly are almost immediately co-activated.

This means that the more senses through which information is experienced, the more places in a child’s memory the information will be stored and the more likely it will be remembered. Just remembering what something looked in like in a picture will activate the other sensory storage areas which hold further details of what was read, heard, and movements that demonstrated it.

For example, when your child needs to retrieve his knowledge about sound waves, he can access all that information by activating just one of the sensory memories with which he learned it. Remembering one will activate the others. So if he remembers the experience of feeling the vibrations of sound waves, that memory will bring with it the other information about sound that he heard about in class, read about, and visualized.

The topic of electricity is another example of how multisensory reviewing can work. Your child might start with rereading about electrons in the text or notes. If she reads the text aloud to herself, there will be both auditory and visual memory storage of the same information in two brain storage areas. If she then looks at or draws a diagram representing the activity of electrons in a circuit, she’ll also visualize the information in yet another storage area.

She can mimic the buzzing sound of electricity as it whizzes by or feel the tingling associated with the electron’s negative charge by rubbing a balloon against her arm and feeling the movement of her hairs responding to static electricity. Or she can compare a diagram of an electron revolving around the center of an atom to a similar one of planets orbiting the sun. Each activity will further extend her multisensory memory storage and increases the ways she can access her knowledge about electricity.

Here are some ways that parents and teachers can use sensory memorage storage to help children study:

- Try learning that is linked to music. Songs with gestures are a great way to remember information in two ways; singing and movement.

- Act out or move in ways that represent the information. A great example is walking on a number line for adding or pointing to examples of shapes as your child names them. You could also have your child touch the letters on blocks that spell a new word.

- Have your child make a fun drawing or cartoon to help them visualize their learning. Often the most memorable drawings are the ones that are creative or funny. For example, if your child is trying to understand the difference between the color name, “red,” and the word, “read,” she could draw a picture of a huge road sign of letters in red spelling out, “RED,” and draw a passerby with a cartoon dialogue bubble that says, “I can read that sign about my favorite color.”

- Using the voice memo application on your smart phone, have your child record different summaries of information that he is studying for a test. Encourage him to listen to those as part of his review. Better yet, listen to those notes while walking around the block or going for a run.

- Have your child organize flashcards or notes by category by putting each category on different color note cards. For example, blue note cards could contain names of rivers, green cards could include names of cities, and red cards could have the names of different mountain ranges.

Kid with backpack

How to Boost Learning: Tap into Your Child’s Natural Strengths

Multisensory storage not only provides better access to retrieve the information for a test, it also provides multiple brain pathways to activate the information for new applications, to solve new problems, and for creative innovations. Not a bad bonus for building memories with the fun of using multiple senses.

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