Lessons and materials

Multi-Sensory Approach to Literacy: Video Presentation

This series of video clips presents the importance of a multi-sensory approach to literacy for children who are blind or with multiple disabilities.

In this series of video clips, I explain the importance of a multi-sensory approach to literacy for children who are blind or visually impaired, with an emphasis on those who have additional disabilities.

The videos are captioned and the transcript follows.





Hello. My name is Gwyn McCormack, and welcome to my workshop, A Multisensory Approach to Literacy. I aim to share with you some of the key elements which are important to the child’s emergent literacy skills. This is based on the multisensory approach using some lovely practical examples linked to real experience and also to fiction. 

The Importance of Participation in a Rich Variety of Concrete Experiences

Literacy opportunities and experiences don’t always occur naturally for the child with additional learning needs. And that’s particularly the case if they have a condition that impacts their cognition and learning, or if they have an impaired sense like a hearing impairment, or a visual impairment or a physical difficulty. This can really impede their access. Learning through other senses is slower. The interpretation and understanding of concepts can take much longer. Curiosity and understanding and the desire to explore may not be so easily stimulated. 
Our ultimate goal is to build a solid foundation of emergent literacy skills by exposing the child as much as we possibly can and as often as we possibly can to a rich variety of concrete experiences involving objects, people, places, activities, to make sure that the child really does participate in the holistic multi-sensory experience. 

Essential Experiences to Undergird the Early Development of Literacy

There’s been research done by Alan Koenig and Carol Farrenkopf in 1997, and they analyzed 254 reading schemes to identify the experiences necessary to bring meaning to each story. From that research, they identified 22 essential areas of experience that are required to undergo the development of literacy. 

These included experiences of things like being at home, in the community, being with friends, doing or making things, and much, much more. You can download this research from the internet. 

It’s crucial that we provide many rich experiences, and that we create and encourage those experiences through storytelling, offering objects to hold, role play, dressing up, labelling and map making, exploring objects, collecting objects during the experience, creating a bag or a box to put them in, and making key words and experience books using technology, audio recording, music, and singing. 

The key skills that the child will need throughout this are the auditory and language skills, concept building, fine motor/tactile, book and story skills form the pathway of emergent literacy skills. And these enable the child to participate in a meaningful literacy experience. 

A Multi-Sensory Journey on a Boat

Gwyn takes us on a multi-sensory journey exploring the boatness of a boat.The first example I want to share with you is multi-sensory journey on the boat. It’s all about the boatness of a boat. It could be any form of transport. This is just to give you an idea, and to inspire you. It could be about a bus, a car, a train, a plane, a lorry, whatever. It’s the ideas around this that I want to share with you, and to tap into your creative juices when you’re working with children.

I have a really good friend who’s a cardboard mechanic and he kindly made me this model of a boat. But you could use any cardboard box to create a boat.

So, hopefully, there’s a day out involved here, and a journey, some sort of journey. And before you do the journey, you’ve have taught the children about the boat, or the bus, or the train, and you’ve felt models, and you’ve shared stories, and you’ve sung songs. And you’ve used the language, of introducing the language about boats, and anchors, and flags, and lights.

And then when you come back to school, or to your setting off to home, if you’re a practitioner working in homes, you’ve helped the child collect a nice bag of objects during the journey to bring back, to recreate the idea and to reinforce that literacy experience.

So just thinking about the boat I’ve got here, starting off with the tactile portholes these pull off. We can do the portholes of porthole and why their circular. On the circle-ness of the circles. And they can have a look through the port hole. And we can think about windows, and the shapes of windows. And the flag, the shiny flag, we could reflect the light off that to encourage children to look and to attend, and to feel the lovely texture of the flag, and the feel the shape of it.

The lovely lights. Let’s attend to the lights, and look at the lights, the boat in the harbor with the lights on. And at the back here, I’ve got a little light using my fine motor skills and developing finger isolation, and using their fingers on their own to press the little button and set the light going.

And this one vibrates. It can be the sound of the engine, as well. You can put the children in the boat, and we can do the swaying that we might feel in the ocean.

And we could read them a little poem, or make a poem up, or a little rhyme. “Put on your hat and coat, we’re going for a ride. We’re going in the cardboard boat, we’ll catch the morning tide. Climb in the cardboard box, it’s going to be our boat. Cross your fingers, cross your toes, let’s hope that it will float! Up and down, down and up, high and low the wind will blow.” And so the poem goes on. But make it up as short and as long as you wish.

The Boatness of the Boat

And then things to think about on the boat– I’m just going to turn that off (turning off the light) so we’re not disturbed by it. All of the things that we might experience is part of the boatness of the boat.

HornListening to the horn. [HORN HONKS]  And why do we have a horn on a boat? And welcome aboard.

[RINGING BELLS]  And the nice few ringing bells to attract the child who finds it difficult to pay attention or to concentrate. And again, much of the circle-ness of the circle to the port hole. And why do we use a life buoy? And what a funny name life buoy is. Wellington boots, to stop my feet getting wet.

And then big flippers. Whose feet do these big flippers fit on? They’re funny shoes, and what sort of noise do they make while we’re walking down [SOUND OF SLAPPING FLIPPERS] the sand or on the corridor. Great fun. Let’s try them on. Let’s put the flippers on with a big, chunky life-jacket. Let’s all wear our life-jacket and pretend that we’re on the boat.

And then while we’re on the boat and we’re wearing our life jackets, let’s shout for the other ships. “Ship ahoy!” Let’s make a foghorn, and use it. We’re doing science. We’re doing maths. We’re doing literacy. We’re doing a holistic approach. We using all the senses. We’re using the spray to represent the waves. We’re using the rainmaker to represent the rain. We’re using a fishing net to catch the fish. An extendable fishing net, so the little fish don’t get away. We’re finding the starfish on the seashore, and feeling the shapes in our hand and the texture of this. And we’re putting on our sunglasses to protect us from the sun.

And for the children with complex needs, we’ve got blue organza to represent the sea and this nice, soft, gentle feel. And the big anchor, to explore the shape of anchor. And we might have felt the anchor, or explored the anchor, when we visited the boat.

So it’s all about creating a wonderful imaginary mutli-sensory journey. And then creating a book, a simple book, using keywords cards, blank ID cards. But then with a label written on, you can add braille, you can add large print, you can add an audio label. And it just brings the literacy, and the words labeling, and the map-making within that experience, too. All about a multi-sensory journey on a boat. 

Traction Man

Traction Man storybucketSo the second example I’d like to share with you is this text– a fiction text– called, Traction Man and the Beach Odyssey. But again, I’m just exampling. You could use this approach with any story book at all. It’s a great, inclusive way for all children — every child in the class will benefit. 

Quite often, children don’t necessarily have the imagination or the real experience to base their learning on. And we want them to use their imagination in class, but they’ve not had the experience to attach the meaning to, so we have to create or bring it to life with real objects. Often, as well, children find it hard to sit still and look at pictures that are being held at a distance. 

And this way, they can feel the objects, smell the objects, explore the objects more easily. I’ve used the idea of a storybook. I’ve made lots of these, just based on a normal bucket, and I’ve added a bucket apron, which you can buy from Amazon. And it’s just got pockets in– a great way for children to explore. 

So really based on the idea of a storybag, but the pockets are great for exploration, aren’t they? And each one’s got a blank ID card with a label of what’s in the pocket just Velcroed on. 

So you can use this for lots of other stories, as well, once one’s finished with. And they can either feel the initial letter, look at the initial letter, read the whole world– whatever they’re up to. So this is a story about a little boy who goes on a holiday to the seaside. 

Here he is. So the children can hold the little boy while you’re telling the story. And it’s the story of the little boy taking Traction Man on his holiday. So Traction Man and his mate Scrubbing Brush have to do an equipment check. 

So I bought a second-hand tin from a charity shop– a lovely little tin like this– and I filled it with all the things that are in the picture in the book. So he takes his hoop-os with him. He takes this hobble-nobble biscuits. He takes his soup. He’s got binoculars. He’s got a head torch, because he’s going to dig to the center of the Earth. So he needs the head torch to be able to see. 

He takes his scuba suit and his breathing bottle and breathing mask– that I’ve just made out of a plastic bottle, a bit of tubing from Ikea, and a breathing mask for the bottom of the bottle as well. And here’s his checklist. Nice, bright color checklist. You can check it off or put a star when he’s checked it. This is a great sorter– teaching children to be organized, to sequence, as well. 

Unfortunately, Traction Man gets carried away when he’s on the beach, and he gets swept away by the sea. And he ends up going under water, which is why it’s a good job he’s got a scuba suit with him. And he meets lots of sea creatures under the sea. 

So there’s some of those for the children to find in the pockets. And his dog Truffles is with him and helps him to escape from the cave, and he ends up washed up on the beach in a sand castle that’s owned by some dollies. And the dollies love ice cream, and they look after Traction Man and they help him out of their castle. 

And then he digs a big hole to the center of the Earth. So there’s his spade, and there’s his goggles to wear to protect himself. And in the base of the bucket, there’s big gloves to wear and a high-vis jacket so he can be seen. And a bucket to collect the articles from the center of the Earth. And a hard hat to protect himself with. 

And they use a flip-flop, and they carry a flip-flop above their head to go and dig the rubble out. So it’s a great multi-sensory experience. The smelly shells that the children can find on the beach– the little boy finds on the beach. And the shapes to feel– this tactile exploration– fine motor skills, and a great story to create out of those objects. 

But I think story buckets are a great way of bringing a multi-sensory experience to the child, and it makes it meaningful. It’s concrete. It’s about people, places, activities, form, shape, size, color. And it’s fun, and it’s a great way of learning. And it’s inclusive of all children. 


I’d like to conclude my workshop by saying that I think literacy opportunities are available in abundance, and they’re all around the child. And the potential experiences are easy to make accessible with a little bit of creativity, keeping the approach concrete and incorporating all the senses. 

It brings literacy to life and makes it meaningful. But most of all, it makes it fun for the child. I really hope you’ve enjoyed this workshop, and I look forward to seeing you all again soon. Thank you.