Sensory Learning

Sensory Learning Kit


Sumary of Millie Smith’s presentation about teaching children who are in Piaget’s first stage of cognitive development:


Piaget’s first stage of cognitive development usually occurs from birth to about age 2. During this stage, children learn about themselves and their environment through sensation and movement. Mental activity is more likely to occur as a result of active manipulation of objects.  The child learns that s/he is separate from the environment and that people and things in the environment continue to exist even though they may be outside the reach of the senses. Teaching a child in this stage should be geared to the sensorimotor system. If a person is chronologically older, but is still has a cognitive age of 0 to 2, working with the sensorimotor system continues to be appropriate.


Education interventions during Piaget’s first phase of cognitive development should build a positively bonded relationship between the learner and the partner, stimulate curiosity, motivate interaction and develop skills through social experiences that facilitate access to sensory information.

Goals for the First Stage of Cognitive Development

Maximize social availability.

Learning can happen independently, but teaching is always a social experience.

Ø       From the learner’s point of view

         My body is comfortable

         I know where I am and who you are

         I trust you enough to want to share an experience with you

Ø       From the teaching partner’s point of view

         I know you are a unique individual

         I know that each of us contributes to the world in different and significant ways

         I value you enough to want our shared experience to be pleasurable and effective for you

Increase quality of life.

Increase agency, anticipation and participation to increase quality of life.

          Agency: having some influence over people and events

          Anticipation: something to look forward to

          Participation: shared experience



Agency skills are cognitive, communicative and motor.

v      Cognition is a dynamic process comprised of specific skills that develop over time as a result of experience. Billions of sensory experiences are required for adequate brain development in first year of life. Sensory characteristics activate processing. Context facilitates development of meaning.

Ø       Cognitive Process


          Near senses (tactual, through hands and mouth)

          Distance senses (visual, auditory, olfactory)

          Movement and position senses (vestibular, proprioceptive)

         Storage (Memory)

          Sensory channel input retained for milliseconds

          Short-term or holding of 5-7 items for a few minutes

          Long-term or life-long retention of events and knowledge

          Procedural or Long-term retention of motor sequences 


          External or internal stimulus trigger

          Stimulates reconstruction of “queried” information

          Result is combination of original experience and associated information

         Use and adaptive behavior


Ø       Cognitive Skills

         Object exploration and schemes

         Object permanence and search




         Spatial relationships

v      Communication

Ø       Requesting: eye gaze, point, vocalize, gesture, smile

Ø       Refusing: head turn, vocalize, frown, gesture, push

Ø       Commenting: manipulate object, gesture

Ø       Questioning: point, vocalize, facial expression

v      Motor

Ø       Stages of motor event

         Preparation (high cortical activity)

         Initiation (high cortical activity)

         Execution (lowest cortical activity)


Ø       Response methods include eye point, hand point, reach, touch, give (grasp/release), push, press, place and scan.

Instructional Strategy

Ø       Minimize stress through the use of routines that are familiar, predictable, consistent and frequent.  Stress can stimulate fight, flight or freeze responses, impair cognitive function and erase memory encodes.

Ø       Encourage anticipation and participation thorough routines that offer opportunities to communicate and develop skills.

Ø       Routine levels encourage different cognitive skills.

         Quiet alert: Attention to stimulation provided by partner

          Goal: create and maintain alertness

          Learner begins to realize that expressions of pleasure and displeasure affect the behavior of his/ her partner

         Active alert: Exploration of learning media

          Goal: development of object schemes, imitation, causality, object permanence

          Learner begins to use a variety of behaviors to request, reject, and sustain specific interactions

         Partial Participation: Outcome directed motor sequences

          Goal: development of means/ends, spatial relationships

          Learner begins to use objects to request, refuse, comment, question, and organize

Ø       Touching the learner

         Position hands and eyes for maximum access.

         Facilitate with cues.

         Facilitate with hand under hand assistance when possible. It feels less intrusive than hand over hand and leaves more of the student’s hand free to feel objects.


Smith, Millie. (2009, October) American Printing House for the Blind Sensory Learning Kit. Presented in Roseville, MN.


Piaget’s Cognitive Stages. (n.d.) Retrieved 26 October 2009 from Honolulu Community College web site.


District287 BVIteachers,
Feb 24, 2010, 1:36 PM