The senses are fundamental to our experiences of learning. We understand that everyone learns differently, which means that different meanings may play an other part in learning for everyone.

Sensory learning can be essential in supporting children with SEND with their knowledge. Understanding the importance of the senses and how they impact individuals differently can also help improve your pupils’ engagement, wellbeing, and behavior.

You may have heard of the five senses of sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste. Still, the senses of proprioception, vestibular sense, and interoception are equally essential to consider when teaching children and young people, particularly those with SEND. Find out more about each of these senses below:


Sight is one of the first senses people think of when thinking of sensory learning since visual aids are easily incorporated into lessons.

Research suggests that when teachers use visual aids, it can help to make lessons more memorable. This may mean using more colorful worksheets with lots of images and drawings. This will allow students to engage more with their worksheets and increase their chances of remembering the content. Simple ways to do this include printing worksheets onto colored paper or stickers. However, it is also essential to consider that many visual stimuli can overwhelm some pupils. Therefore, consider the classroom environment, and ensure that calm, plain spaces are available when needed.

Teachers can boost engagement further by combining sight with other senses. This may mean combining physical movement with visual instructions. This particular style of learning is called visual-spatial learning.


Most people benefit from combining physical movement and touch-based activities (kinaesthetic learning). Allowing pupils to enjoy touching, examining, building, and moving things around will positively impact their learning. Try to find ways to incorporate different textures and physical touch into your lessons, and if possible, find ways to allow children to physically hold objects in their hands to enable them to form a physical connection to them. This allows all pupils in the class to engage equally with the lesson without relying on reading or writing ability.

Giving students a chance to get out of their seats and engage in an interactive activity can also help to engage learners and improve their chances of remembering content. Simple ways of doing this include allowing students time to fidget and allowing them to move their location in the classroom and add a little variety to their learning environment. Learning techniques like this can help children improve their attention span and give children a chance to release their energy. For some children, particularly with SEND, these opportunities are essential to ensure they can engage with the lesson.

When thinking of kinaesthetic learning, it is easy to believe it is for creative subjects. Still, it can also be used in any lesson by creating active games instead of written quizzes and using objects rather than images to prompt discussion and ideas.


Learning through the sense of hearing is known as auditory learning. Some children respond best to being told instructions and joining in class discussions. Auditory learners may also respond well to listening to CDs and recordings and remember things quickly when they are put to lyrics and jingles.

Reading along with audiobooks has also been shown to help auditory learners retain and recall information later.

Be aware of the sounds in your classroom; for some pupils, sound can be highly distracting or cause sensory overload, resulting in distress. This may present as challenging or disruptive behavior. Some children may enjoy background noise, such as calming music, whereas others may benefit from wearing ear defenders to block out sound and allow them to focus on their tasks.

Taste and Smell:

Incorporating taste and smell into lessons can result in highly engaging learning opportunities. Always ensure that you are aware of allergies before using these senses in a class.

To keep smells contained, use cotton wool balls in sealed containers.


Proprioception is your sense of where your body is in space. It helps coordinate your movements and makes you feel safe and secure. However, for some pupils with SEND who do not have a strong sense of proprioception, this can result in a feeling of anxiety. Allowing pupils to use fidget toys or a weighted shoulder or lap pad can ease this anxiety.

Vestibular Sense:

Your vestibular sense allows you to balance. You may notice some pupils in your class who struggle to sit still. These pupils may have a weak sense of vestibulation. To develop the understanding of vestibulation, keep your lessons active with games and activities that allow opportunities for your pupils to move around. When you need them to sit in one place, using a ‘wobble cushion’ may support them with this need.


Interoception is our sense of how we are feeling inside. For some pupils, particularly those who are younger, have special educational needs or are Autistic, this sense may not be well developed, and identifying how they feel can be a big challenge. For some pupils, this may mean they cannot tell you when they feel upset, angry, or excited because they have not identified this feeling in themselves. This can result in challenging behaviors -imagine if you were angry but didn’t realize it – you would probably eventually lash out at someone. Likewise, if you were upset but didn’t realize, repeated requests to get on with work might end in tears and distress.

To support your pupils in developing their sense of interoception, try getting into the habit of using areas of regulation regularly. For example, talk to pupils about how their bodies might behave when they feel different emotions, and provide ways of regulating emotions, such as calming spaces, fidget toys, and opportunities to take movement breaks.

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