I was a good student. A teacher's pet, peer-counselor, student-council vice president, nearly straight-A-getting senior in high school who had proven myself an 'atypical' girl by excelling at math and science. Biology was my favorite.
By the time I was a senior, I had taken all of the biology classes offered in our teeny rural school and had a free period that I wasn't sure what to do with. By biology teacher asked me if I'd be willing to act as a tutor to a student who was blind. He had ordered special materials for her and she would attend all of his lectures, but when it came to truly understanding all of the concepts he thought it would be great if she had some one-on-one help. Always eager to ingratiate myself to the adults in my life, I agreed without hesitation.
Opening the box that arrived the first week of school was better than Christmas. There were all sorts of amazing tools inside - models of cells made out of plastic that showed each phase of cell division and reproduction, a rubber frog we could 'dissect' and remove each of the authentic-feeling parts inside, squishy stomach, spongy lungs, etc.
The two of us spent at least half an hour together every day, reviewing the lectures and tracing our fingertips over the plastic materials we'd been so lucky to get. Even though I had aced this same class two years before, the simple act of integrating the information in a different way gave me such an enhanced understanding. Feeling the DNA of a cell as it split and copied itself for replication, I felt the lessons hitching a ride on my nerve endings and traveling up into my brain for storage. Knowing what the organs of a frog felt like without the blunting touch of latex gloves was exquisite.
For most of my formal education, the power of touch was not emphasized at all. We were expected to use our eyes and ears to gather information and recall it from scribbled notes we took. Montessori school teachers know the importance of touch when it comes to tracing pathways in the brain and firmly rooting understanding versus memorization. Their classrooms are wonderlands of sensory information. They teach children letters by showing them and having them trace the letter itself with their fingertips, reinforcing it in at least two ways at once. Math is taught with the use of golden beads that help imprint the feeling of one, two, three into their memories. There are projects that experiment with the sense of smell and taste and lectures are not given in groups. Instead, lessons are provided to one or two children at a time when they are mentally and physically ready for them so as not to overwhelm their senses with extraneous information (the sound of a classmate fidgeting in their seat, the frantic need to copy down verbatim what the teacher is saying).
Wouldn't it be great if we were all taught from a young age to include all of our senses in our quest to understand the world around us? Instead, we are so often encouraged to block other things out and learn in a way that is one-dimensional and limiting. We cannot fully understand anything by looking at it or hearing it. To think otherwise is to discount potentially important information and give ourselves the false impression that we understand it.
Something to think about....