Sensorimotor Spotlight

Supporting Learners with Visual & Multiple Impairments

Promoting Exploration for Sensorimotor Learners

Our team designs routines for learners at various levels of interaction with objects (attention, exploration & function), and we have noticed that the skills of exploration are ones that we always come back to, make time for, and reinforce.

In the sensorimotor stage of development, exploring objects is the backbone for understanding the world around us. When our ability to explore is limited by motor or sensory challenges, instructional routines are critical for exposure to objects and teaching exploration skills. The value of interacting with real objects in a meaningful way cannot be understated.

This month, we will share some of the ways we teach exploration of objects through instructional routines and key factors for creating these meaningful lessons.

Exploratory Schemes & Procedures

Exploring objects can take many forms, and the more exploration strategies we can use, the better! As teachers and therapists, we can model different strategies through instructional routines so the learner can add to their "exploration repertoire."

Explorations schemes:

Mouthing (This is ok & should be encouraged with safe objects!)







Taking out/Putting in

Taking Apart/Putting Together

Exploratory Procedures & Information Gained:

Lateral motion (scratching, rubbing): texture

Pressure: hardness

Static Contact: temperature

Enclosure: shape/size/volume

Unsupported Holding: weight

Contour Following: exact shape

How to Teach It - Tactile Modeling & Hand-Under-Hand Support

Our team builds routines where exploration procedures and schemes are taught explicitly within the steps of the routine. The routine is created with key factors in mind:

- A consistent way of presenting the objects. Learners should have an opportunity, with appropriate accommodations, to look and listen to the qualities of the object before exploring it.

-Space and time for the learner to initiate exploration on their own when the object is presented.

-Visual and Tactile Modeling of the exploration procedure - the teaching partner can hold the object and demonstrate an exploration technique while the learner's hands are touching the partner's. This allows them to feel as you might squeeze the ball or bang two objects together.

-Time for the learner to mimic the action you have modeled.

-Use of consistent objects within the routine that motivate and interest the learner.

Hand-Under-Hand Support is critical here, and always. We want our learners to feel safe while exploring and to gain confidence exploring different materials.

Watch Adam's exploration journey to see examples of these strategies in action.

Adam learns function of item used in previous exploration routine - Sensory Learning Kit (SLK)

A Message from Millie

Image of Mille Smith

We know what active learning looks like for learners who can move their bodies and manipulate objects with their hands. What about those learners who cannot do either of those things? Can they be active learners? Yes, they absolutely can.

It turns out that active participation isn’t what we always thought it was. Game changing research in motor cognition and mental imaging has shown us that being able to think about doing something stimulates the same brain activity as actually doing it. That’s what makes it possible for individuals with spinal cord injuries to walk using exoskeletons. They image what they want their bodies to do. The brain patterns stimulated by those images direct the movements of robotic limbs. Mental imaging is used in sports to improve performance. A basketball player stands at the free throw line and images the shot before he executes it.

How does this work with our learners at the sensorimotor stage who have no, or very limited movement ability? If Johnny can’t move, can he still make cookies? If he can image himself participating in the cookie making steps, he is making cookies. He is an active learner.

Here is what has to happen.

1. Johnny watches what you do. That means he has to be interested enough to do the work of paying attention. He can “watch” visually or tactually. Use visual modeling and/or tactile modeling. In tactile modeling Johnny watches by riding your hands as you do something. This is hand under hand modeling. This watching stimulates mirror neurons.

2. Johnny has to want to participate. The moment he initiates an action by imaging it, he is active. Watching alone strengthens attention skills, but it does not contribute to understanding until the learner forms the intent to participate.

3. Johnny does everything he can do. He can always image an action and if you give him time to motor plan and process, he might be able to do a little more. If he knows it is time to stir the cookies, he might be able to extend his fingers toward the spoon.

4. After Johnny has done his best, you can help him execute the action with hand under hand support.

Watch Max's Flag Routine to see an example of this process.


Max's Flag Routine: Learning to reach, observe, and imitate - Sensory Learning Kit (SLK)

Exploration Routine Resources

Our team has developed lesson plans for exploration routines, a documentation form, and a Hand-Under-Hand resource we have shared with families and staff. We hope your teams find them useful.

Do You Have a Case Study to Share?

Do you have a success story? Do you have an extremely challenging situation you'd like support with? Fill out our google form, and we may highlight your case study in a future newsletter.
We hope your year starts off well and are excited about sharing in the journey with you!

Stacey Chambers, TVI

Angela Campbell, Adapted PE Teacher

Allison Clark, PT

Wendy Pray, Active Learning Teacher

Millie Smith, Consultant for Learners with Visual and Multiple Impairments

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