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Tactile and Visual Learning for Early Education

Child pretending to fly

Earlier this month, I was fortunate to attend a keynote address by Dr. Temple Grandin on the importance of how we teach young learners in the modern world. Dr. Temple Grandin is a world-renowned behavioral scientist and lecturer who focuses on those living with autism as well as and animal behavioral science. Dr. Grandin was diagnosed with autism at a time when not much was understood about the condition and has dedicated her life and career to better understanding the unknown when it comes to differences in human and animal behavior. When speaking about how her brain comprehended ideas as a child, and as it still does today, she explained that unlike many others, she thought of things through a series of images and not through words. She explained that the visual aspect of her learning and understanding opened up a world of possibilities for her. That visual understanding allowed her to design a variety of industry-changing inventions for her work in the cattle and farming industry. She considers this ability to visualize and then actively create instruments, machines and objects as atimeless skill.

As she grew older, she noticed that many schools stopped focusing on allowing children to visualize and create as part of their curriculum. She noticed that this stunted the ability in children being inventive problem-solvers. She hypothesized that as time goes on and we become a more technology-reliant society, the most important job skillset will be that of problem-solvers who can invent and manage the machines that do much of our daily work. But, counter-intuitively, just letting our children play with technology is not enough to prepare them for these skills. They need to be tactilely involved in their surroundings. They need to be able to tinker and play with objects and create inventions of their own from an early age. There is a natural tendency for young learners to do this already, and it used to be heavily implemented in the education systems years before the technology boom of modern times. Dr. Grandin encourages us as early educators to go back to those basic activities in our homes and schools when teaching young children these skillsets.

So how can we go back to those ideas? Maybe at home, instead of having 2 hours of play time on the iPad or phone, we do 1 hour of play time on technology, and then 1 hour of play time with blocks, paper, and other tactile objects around the house. Ask your child a simple question like, can you build a fence to keep your toy horses in? What kind of material would you need? How long should the fence be? Can you create a small boat to put your Barbie’s in? What would they need in their boat for it to move?

Children are very creative when faced with a problem, and you may be surprised the imaginative ideas they use to solve these tasks. There are no right or wrong ways to solve a problem. Maybe they don’t think of using oars for the boat but consider other inventive ways to move it forward. Allow them plenty of non-structured time as well to create their own inventions and keep encouraging them to do so. Children of all ages can begin doing these tactile activities and the longer they pursue it, the more complex connections their brain is making.