A CAT IN THE SANDBOX (SLOOM!- M is for multi-sensory)

The cat left a present in the sandbox...again.

Do you remember playing in the sandbox as a kid. Do you remember what happened when the neighbourhood cat got in the sand? I do, and I shudder to think about it...

I would often find myself playing with toys only to find some cat had mistaken it for its own personal litter-box, leaving behind... you know what I’m talking about!

Fortunately, that is all I have to say about playing with cat poo in the sandbox, but if I can get you to remember the phrase:

"cat in the sand

…then I’ve accomplished my goal.

Multi-sensory teaching

When we talk about multi-sensory teaching we are referring to utilising the different senses (sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch) while teaching literacy skills. Sand can be a great tool for helping with spelling and handwriting because the grains of the sand can reinforce letter formation, muscle movements and sensory stimulation. The word cat is one of those "regular" words we teach early on because all the letters say the correct sounds - /c/ /a/ /t/).

While I need not go into specifics of multi-sensory literacy instruction here (doctoral theses are written about such things), let’s take a quick glance at what this could look like for some literacy skills.

photo: www.educationalneuroscience.org.uk


Make learning phonics and letter sounds memorable by creating actions for each of the sounds. Pretend to be a blob of jelly when teaching the /j/ sound, or act out licking a lollipop to memorise the /l/ sound (see Jolly Phonics).

Writing and Spelling

For handwriting, why not use different sized and coloured writing utensils and paper (including sandpaper, sandbox trays, shaving foam, chalkboards, and much more). Textured materials such as sandpaper and chalkboards create a sensory experience, and larger paper and writing utensils can help with muscle memory (think “overlearning” and writing cat in the sand). (photo- www.understood.org)

When practicing spelling words, try SLOWLY saying the word you want to spell while stretching out your arms for each sound in the word. For example, if a student wants to write the word “cat” and asks you to help them, have them stretch out the word with their hands while simultaneously saying it slowly. You may need to first model this for them so the know what you mean but eventually they can begin using this strategy on their own, gaining more independence.

Thinking about your senses

What is the best food you’ve had in recent memory?

Was it sweet? Salty? Or a combination of these?

What was the texture? Smooth? Chewy? Crunchy?

Was it on a holiday to Paris or the Amalfi Coast that added to the ambience, or perhaps the company you had with you?

Close your eyes for a moment and think back.

You see, we remember foods we had because the taste and experience was unforgettable:

the ambience of the restaurant, the service from the waiting staff, the aroma, taste, texture and arrangement of the food… it all plays a role in our memory of the experience.

There are endless multi-sensory ideas for improving literacy skills, so I hope this whetted your proverbial appetite to go out and do some more research into multi-sensory teaching and try it with your own kids!

"cat in the sand"

It worked, didn't it?