7 Mindful Methods Boost Sensory Processing for Improved Learning

Posted by Erica Warren on

An awesome sunset will likely capture one’s attention for a minute or two, but much of our sensory processing information remains overlooked. Although we are subconsciously processing our surroundings with our senses so that we can navigate our environment, being consciously aware of this sensory input is less common.

Students meditating

I’ll never forget a seventh grade student, Mary, that I had in a study skills course. One afternoon, she came bursting into the classroom and eagerly shared a profound revelation. Mary had consciously decided to focus her attention and listen in class, and she was astonished at how easy it was to learn.

Individuals of all ages have the ability to get “lost in thoughts,” and these distractions can be past experiences, future predictions, fantasies, worries, or even new and creative ideas. In fact, many of us are so tangled in the past and the future, that we miss the present moment. Students that struggle with processing sensory information in the moment are often diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder and or Attention Deficit Disorder. Mary had been diagnosed with the later, and she had learned to mindfully address her learning challenge. Whether students struggle with these diagnoses or not, teaching them to be aware of the here and now can provide them the metacognitive skills to maximize their potential.

Executive Functioning Coaching
There is currently a growing movement in America called “Mindfulness.” The idea is to live in the here and now, and this mindset and embedded strategies can benefit students as well as their teachers, and parents. In fact, if a teacher or parent chooses to teach these skills, they will have to master the process themselves. To do this, one must learn to mindfully tap awareness into one’s senses.

Mindful Sensory Activities that Improve Attention and Learning

Being fully aware of your senses can be a great way to manage attention and capacity to learn. Here are my favorite sensory strategies that you can implement yourself or teach youngsters so they can improve attention, metacognition and learning at large:

  1. Visual: I believe that visualization is a secret weapon to maximizing learning potential. Mental imagery is a key ingredient to improving working memory as well as emotional intelligence and attentional skills. I have found that the best way to teach visualization is through games and mindful discussions. To help with this process, I wrote a book entitled Mindful Visualization for Education. If you would like to read more about this product and the research behind it, CLICK HERE.
  2. Auditory: Mindfully addressing your inner voice, the words we hear in our own heads, is another powerful tool for managing sensory input and improving cognition. This is also another key ingredient to improving working memory as well as attentional skills. Mindful task cards can be used to help students change their inner voice from a critic to a cheerleader.
  3. Tactile: Touch is another sensation that can be used to improve learning. In fact, tactile learners find that feeling and manipulating items in their surroundings can help them to encoding information into their memory banks. This might, for example, include writing out information that needs to be learned, doodling, physically mapping out ideas with sticky notes, using manipulatives like an abacus, or conducting hands on experiments. I also use a tactile Zen Table in my office to help to soothe and calm students that are feeling spent or agitated. Another option I like is to provide a balloon to my students and encourage them to blow their worries into the balloon. After that, we can let the air out or we can tie it and pop it!
  4. Taste: Helping students to be mindful of what they eat can be a game changer. Healthy food can feed the brain, whereas junk food can trigger brain fog. For example, we need B vitamins (from foods like organic eggs, fish and cheese) for healthy nerves and brain cells. In addition, research suggests that blueberries can provide antioxidants for improved memory. Furthermore, vitamin C has long been thought to have the power to increase mental agility. Some of the best sources of this vitamin are blackcurrants, red peppers, citrus fruits and broccoli. Finally, pumpkin seeds are rich in zinc. This valuable mineral enhances memory and thinking skills.
  5. Smell: Familiar aromas can trigger an emotional response in just about anyone. It might be the wafting scent of pot roast, a loved one’s perfume, or a pathway of fragrant Lily of the Valley on a Spring morning. One can bring soothing scents into a session, and many experts in the field of aromatherapy suggest that essential oils can be used to help with concentration, memory, and more. Essential oils can even be tried to manage stress.
  6. Kinesthetics or movement of the body: For many students movement and exercise promotes learning. In fact, research suggests that regular exercise improves cognitive function, slows down the mental aging process and helps us process information more effectively. I love to integrate movement into almost all my sessions. Even if it means that we are simply maintaining an active core while sitting on a ball-chair.
  7. Interoception: Interoception describes our awareness and sensitivity to internal body sensations such as pain, temperature, itch, hunger, thirst, and breathlessness. Emotions often arise from our interoceptive sensations, too. When someone asks how you feel, you often check-in with your body. Body scan and breathing meditations can be a wonderful way to help students to mindfully become aware of stress and negative sensations in their body so that they can make a conscious effort to manage their reactions and release, for example, muscle tension. Changing the body's reaction to the brain and also making a conscious effort to breathe can have a profound impact on learning. Again, my Mindful Tasks Cards can help students manage their internal body sensations as well as their emotions.

Cheers, Dr. Erica Warren

Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator, and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning. She is also the director of Learning to Learn and Learning Specialist Courses.

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