Let Your Fingers Do the Learning!

*Disclaimer: I am writing this blog as part of the NaNoWriMo challenge - 50,000 words in 30 days. My goals with this and other blogs are to write a total of 50,000 words and to present the brain and learning in a less technical way. I don't know if these blogs will lead to a book, but if they do, I will acknowledge anyone who has commented on my blog (with their permission of course!) Please see my questions at the end of this blog, even if you didn't understand this blog!
You've heard about VAK learning styles, right? Results of a simple learning style exam shows whether you are a visual, auditory, or kinesthetic/tactile learner; however, have you ever considered the evolution of sensory development?
  • The sense of hearing, or one's auditory system begins with the creation of the ears in the 5th week of gestation. The ears are fully developed by the twenty-fourth week of gestation; however, an infant still needs the first year after birth for his sense of hearing to be completely functional.
  • While the structures that connect to the sense of touch develop in the 9th week of gestation, the actual sense of touch is first fully functional by the twenty second week of gestation.
  • Vision, like hearing, originates with the creation of the eyes in the 9th and 10th week of gestation. After birth, infants can initially "detect motion, can focus on an object about eight inches away, are sensitive to brightness, and have red and green color vision". Their sight continues to develop over three years when the eyes are finally fully operational.
Importance of Touch in Educational Development
As the sense of touch is one of the first to develop, some educators and educational psychologists are focusing on how to use tactile stimulation in the elementary grades to increase learning. Lise Eliot, associate professor of neuroscience that Chicago's Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine & Science, explains, "After birth, social touch is especially important for babies' development. Infants deprived of close holding and contact can suffer all kinds of emotional and developmental problems". Touch continues its developmental and educational importance as infants become toddlers and then school-age. This does not mean that a child will not receive auditory or visual stimulation. This will occur naturally throughout the educational process. Teachers and educational psychologists, however, have found that focus on touch, used in early education, results in higher cognition learning, or learning skills that can transfer to any future studies. James R. Murphy further explains this importance of enhancing young children's higher cognition learning, writing, "It is much harder to develop these skills as one nears puberty and beyond".

Some examples of touch taking place in the learning process are through music, manipulatives and string figures.

String Figures
James R. Murphy writes extensively on the use of string figures, a Native American tradition, in his articles in the Huffington Post. I actually had to google the phrase because the only thing that came to mind when I read "string figures" was a puppet!

Did you ever create a "cat's cradle" with string on your fingers? Once you completed the design, you would turn to a friend who had to carefully take the string design and convert it into the soldier's bed. The game could be endless if you know how to make each new pattern. For me, I knew how to make the cat's cradle, but I couldn't go beyond that. Murphy argues that learning the different patterns of string figures cements the ideas of learning patterns in general, and patterns are used in almost any area of learning from mathematics to reading. Some might even contend that once children hear that string figures originate in Native American culture, they can learn more about the history of the United States, therefore entering into the realm of social studies.

As an educator, Murphy found, "This curriculum represents a unique opportunity to shape a young person's feelings about their intellectual abilities and about their capacity to learn".

Similar to string figures, students who take instrument lessons also learn patterns through memorizing music notes, the positioning of fingers on the instrument, and repetitive choruses. Younger children can learn basic instruments including simply clapping their hands and learning rhythm, as this is not specific to learning styles. As the students move up in grades, they can consider their learning styles and choose more complex instruments if they feel they excel in kinesthetic/tactile learning.

So, what exactly are manipulatives? You've probably seen the blocks, tiles, cubes, geoboards, tangrams, counters, and spinners in all kindergarten and first grade classrooms. Then, they're abandoned until students study higher math. But, manipulatives can prove to be more important than simply teaching mathematical skills. Manipulatives teach students to distinguish colors, discover shapes, and of course learn patterns. Again, instruction using manipulatives teach skills that can transfer to other courses.

As demonstrated, any hands-on learning activity can improve the brain and enhance learning. They also create a student who can both learn and do. They've already experimented and learned what works and what doesn't. They've learned how to fail and how to succeed. And, they've learned teamwork and social skills, particularly through the use of string figures as they trade the string figures back and forth and explain to each other which strings to pull apart or bring together to create the next string figure.

I'm curious - Murphy, who introduced me to the use of string figures in the classroom is a retired teacher. Do any of my readers who are currently teachers use string figures in their instruction?

Words: 846  -- Cumulative total= 2238/50,000 (does not include disclaimer or questions below)

Questions to my readers:
  • Was this blog too technical or too basic?
  • What did you like best/worst about this blog?
  • What questions did you have about this topic after you finished reading, if any?

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