Just as newborns innocently enter this world with the capacity for being totally immersed in sensory experiences, so too, do our museum, zoo, and park visitors. Each of them has the potential for sensory involvement waiting to be engaged and fulfilled. After all, how does a newborn learn about his world? How does he connect his pure, unbounded status to his environment? Furthermore, what are the avenues and pathways that result in a smile or the contagious laughter of a delighted child?
The answer to all these questions is surprisingly simple and extremely useful as a principle for effective interpretation. Sensory involvement is the primary connector. Even before an infant can focus his eyes, his parents can be recognized. Tactile contact has been proven to be an essential requirement for a newborn’s survival. Sound recognition begins in utero. Sweetness is the earliest quality of taste to develop.
It is through these sensory pathways that children connect themselves to their world. When experience is repeated, recognized, and is associated with a positive feeling, delight results. The joy of learning is kindled and, eventually, a masterful understanding of the world is obtained. Children can taste sweet just by the mention of the word “cookie,” burst into song on seeing a cartoon character, and draw flowers of various colors just by receiving crayons.
Is it not our goal as educators, docents, and fellow learners to develop and broaden our emotional base, and to rekindle the joy of learning by becoming more fully connected to our world? To accomplish this, what is needed is to trace back to the pathways that connect young visitors to the world.
What has worked for me is to:
- Pass around ideas that fit in a pocket, pouch, or purse. Let children have the opportunity to feel what institutions cannot let them touch.
- Try viewing a painting using a flashlight (with a protective filter attached), to highlight or spotlight areas and to direct vision.
- Give students the tubes from toilet paper rolls and have them select locations and distances from which to view art or nature.
- Provide children with fragrances, herbs, flowers, oils, or smoke. Smells are a powerful avenue to memory and emotions. Have visitors listen to the sounds of animals, or of leaves underfoot. Try playing pre-recorded sound effects that set moods, or that focus attention.
- Blindfold youngsters and let them explore pine cones, shells, bones, cloth, sculpture, or animals through their sense of touch.
Dennis D. Slotnick, Science Teacher, Clay High School, Oregon, Ohio.
Slotnick, Dennis D. “It works for me…Sharing successful techniques and ideas.,” The Docent Educator 5.2 (Winter 1995-96): 15.