If you’re a parent or an educator, you’ve likely experienced challenges when it comes to teaching children.  There are many factors at the root of these challenges — whether it’s that some children can’t sit still, some may not be able to focus, they can’t clearly comprehend the materials, or they lack educational stimulation, among many others.  But there is a learning method that has been proven to help tackle these challenges: multilevel sensory experiences.

Blending multilevel sensory experiences with education can actually improve learning for most kids.

Multilevel Sensory Learning Experiences

There are four different sensory levels that can be stimulated in order to improve education. These include sight, sound, touch, and body movement. Each of these senses stimulates different areas of reasoning in the brain, which provide more concentration and a heightened ability for information to be absorbed.

Multiple research studies — including those done by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Center for Biotechnology Institute, and the Center for Literacy & Disability Studies at University of North Carolina — show results where multilevel sensory experiences improved educational performance among all students.

Specifically, these studies showed large improvements in students who have learning difficulties in subjects such as reading, math, writing, and speech.

Finding materials that have multiple options for sensory stimulation are critical elements to multilevel stimulation. For example, my book A Little Spark allows students to develop literacy skills while also teaching life lessons such as believing in yourself, how to care for friends, understanding situations, and treating people fairly. The addition of the musical soundtrack and audiobook adds to the overall experience for kids while reinforcing the learning process.

How It Works

Photo: A Little Spark

At a young age, stimulation of the whole brain and multilevel sensory experiences allow children to make associations between letters, words, and sounds faster. This is why it’s critical for your child to read aloud when in the beginning stages of education. Multilevel sensory experiences do not stop and start with reading, though.

Dr. Howard Gardner states* that there are eight intelligences that multilevel sensory experiences can help children learn in an educational setting. These include the ability to organize thoughts and feelings, and the ability to understand pitch and rhythm. By tapping into these intelligences, it exposes students to deeper learning practices, which can then relate to more effective studying and longer information retention.

This is beneficial when taking into account long summers between the school years where students can forget information and fall behind as they move up in the education system. And, during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s become even more of a challenge for students across the globe.

Multilevel sensory experiences also improve educational confidence in students. Most students are aware that they are not comprehending information but may not know why. It’s important to inform students that people learn differently and there’s nothing wrong with them if they are struggling.

With these multilevel sensory lessons, since there are different elements of stimulation and learning, students don’t feel like they are falling behind or embarrassed to ask for help because they learn differently. Overall, this educational method is extremely inclusive, which builds confidence in the student and learning environment.

If your student or child is struggling, incorporating multilevel sensory experiences with their education practice may be a viable option to improve their comprehension of materials. If this option is not available in the classroom, parents can develop their own multilevel activities or study techniques to incorporate into homework time after school. It may be as simple as including an audio element or related video. Give your students their best chance and utilize this proven educational tool to bring them to their full potential.

Sensory Learning Experiences — Sources

*Gardner, H., and Hatch, T. Educational Implications of the Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Educational Reader, 8(8), November 1989, pp. 4-10.
UNC Chapel Hill
National Institutes of Health

Technology limitations and hiccups. A lack of focus by students. Greater feelings of isolation. With distance learning is now the norm for most of us, these are just some of the problems we encounter daily as we navigate our new learning landscape.

But what if I were to tell you of a way to lessen the stress and strain for teachers and students alike and improve learning? It’s something so simple and readily available to all of us. I’m talking about music.

We already know, according to a study by the John Hopkins School of Education, that playing reflective music can hold a student’s attention for longer periods of time than without. That music instruction appears to accelerate brain development in young children, particularly in the areas of the brain responsible for processing sound, language development, speech perception and reading skills.

But we don’t need studies by highly respected universities to tell us what we already know: That music soothes our soul, stimulates our senses, and opens up our imaginations.

Below are 5 ways you can incorporate music into your home learning program to create a spark for greater productivity, stimulation, and joy.

1. Set the Mood with Music

What would our favorite movies be without music? Think about the theme from Jaws or any of the songs from the Sound of Music. Think about how music affects mood during a film—how the right tone can calm or excite. Why not use the same techniques of Hollywood moviemakers for your learning program? The next time you read a story, accompany it with music that fits the scene or development of a character.

Use music as a transition from one subject to another. Use it as a cue to inspire a sense of urgency, such as the Batman theme. Create energy with the theme from Rocky. Instill calmness with a lullaby.

What music you choose is up to you, but used appropriately, the right piece can set the right mood for the moment.

2. Write a Song, Melody, or Lyrics

Having your students try their hand at writing music or lyrics can deepen their understanding and appreciation for any lesson. Instead of assigning the typical book report or essay, use music to spark new inspiration.

Let the student take ownership and choose whether to create a song, write a rap, or develop a beat. Creating music is a terrific way for your students to express their creativity.

Remember how you learned your ABCs? Use a sing-along to memorize new material or even their multiplication tables.

3. Let the Music Guide You

Music can be a great teaching assistant. The next time your students are practicing math drills or learning spelling words, for example, let them keep a beat or tap to it with anything they have on hand, such as a toy drum or even an aluminum pot. Of course, be sure they get their parent’s attention before suggesting they bang away on their mom’s cookware.

Music, in general, works wonders when learning new material. I bet you can still recite the lyrics from the series, Schoolhouse Rock! (Two of my favorites are I’m Just a Bill and Conjunction Junction, which can be viewed on Disney+ by the way).

4. Let’s Dance

One of the most challenging aspects of at-home learning for children is the lack of physical activity. Allow them to get up from time to time and shake a groove to the music and release some energy.

Dancing to music also helps to build motor skills while allowing them to practice self-expression.

Flocking is a method of interpretative dance where students mirror or shadow each other’s movements in a group. One student will act as the leader and express their meaning to a song by creating a move. The other students will attempt to follow. The Council of Ontario Drama and Dance Educators has all the details. Keep in mind it was written for in-class learning, but you can use your imagination to create ways for it to work virtually.

5. Let a Musician Tell Their Story

Listening to a musician’s story can do wonders to increase one’s appreciation of their art. The good news about today’s Zoom/Google Meets culture is that we’re getting use to meeting virtually.

Invite a local musician to discuss their craft, how they get started, and even to perform a tune or two. Although many musicians are night owls, you might be surprised how willing they would be to get up early and talk about one of their greatest passions.

As an alternative, there are plenty of fantastic and inspirational documentaries for older kids on musicians – many of which you can find on Netflix, Amazon and even on YouTube.

Music is the ultimate international language, making it easy to explore other cultures, which is why I’m a huge fan of the Buena Vista Social Club (1999, Hulu), which tells the story of Cuban musicians continuing to hone their craft while isolated under Castro.

Jakob Dylan of the Wallflowers (Yes, Bob’s son) headlines an enlightening history lesson of the 60’s Los Angeles music scene in Echo in the Canyon (2019, Netflix), showcasing the community and shared-influence responsible for many of the era’s greatest hits.

Hip-Hop Evolution (2016-20, Netflix) is a 16-part series covering the key moments (musically and socially) in the history of rap.

Believe in Ourselves

Understand the Situation

There are number of lessons from the story. These are presented in the final section of the book. The first lesson is really the foundation for the others:  Be That Spark.

In this post, we discuss the overall “Be That Spark” theme and spend a little time discussing the first two lessons – “Believe in Ourselves” and “Understand the Situation.” In subsequent posts we will introduce you to the other four lessons.

“I personally loved the lessons learned in the story- especially that even the smallest creature can make the biggest difference.  That is especially important for children to hear because they so badly want to be seen and heard. “

Nicole Ramirez – Grade 1 Teacher

BE THAT SPARK: The overall theme, or what I would call the “key-take away,” is the idea that we all need to look for ways to “Be That Spark.” We need to engage and find ways where we can make a difference in the lives of those around us. Those opportunities abound; we just need to be looking for them. There’s a line in the theme song “A Little Spark” which goes like this – “no more selfies, turn your camera out. And make a connection, that’s what this is about.”

Regardless of who you are, you will someday need that Spark on your own journey. Can you imagine if everyone leaned in and became that Spark? If they reached out their hand to help someone along the way? It is important that children develop the importance of “giving” early in life and that this character trait is encouraged along the way.

“A spark is a little thing, yet it may kindle the world.” Martin Farquhar Tupper

BELIEVE IN OURSELVES: In the story, our main character, Spark, finds himself in difficult situation where, because of how things “are” in the world of Zuron, he is trapped and forced to accept his lowly position in life. The one thing that helps him succeed is his belief in himself. He is confident that he can do more – “put me in, Coach, and give me the ball and I’ll make the play whatever you call. I can do more.” Those are lines from the song “I Can Do More.”

We need to constantly work with our kids to help them build their confidence and to always encourage them to believe in their ability to do more. Whatever “more” is.

"If you hear a voice within you say 'you cannot paint,' then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced." Vincent van Gogh

UNDERSTAND THE SITUATION: Sometimes we jump to conclusions before knowing the facts. Actually, it happens a lot. We assume things about people without knowing their situation. We fill in the blanks based on our experiences or perceptions and sometimes we get it wrong. The outcome is never good. The character Rosie doesn’t rush things, and she takes the time to understand the situation and to help others make decisions based on a clear set of facts.

We need to teach our kids to take the time to ask questions – many questions – in order to understand what is really happening. This is a skill that can be developed in children at an early age.

“The only true wisdom is in knowing that you know nothing.” - Socrates

In our next post we will discuss the next two lessons: "Everyone Should be Treated as an Equal" and "Friends Look After Friends."

If you haven’t read my first blog post, I recommend you start there. It will help you understand the beginning of my book writing/publishing adventure.

The world of A Little Spark has been many years in the making. It all started when I had the idea for a story about the tiniest of creatures – a lowly mouse – who, through his own self-confidence, steps up to the plate and saves the day. I expanded the story based on that one plot point, and as the words flowed, I saw more and more clearly a bigger concept: anyone can do amazing things. We all have the ability to lift ourselves up. Every single person can “Be That Spark” to the people around them.

And so, those three little words – Be That Spark – became something much larger than I expected. It has become the core of everything we do at Zuroam Media. Everything we’ve planned is based on this theme, and the book A Little Spark is just the beginning.

At Zuroam Media, we believe that children’s books play an important role in helping to shape who children become. The stories that our children are reading have the ability to shape who they will become. Do we want them to become good leaders? Then we need to focus on nurturing their minds to be such. In fact, I would even go so far as to say that many adult leaders today would benefit from rereading classic children’s books which teach us about friendship, loyalty, and fun.

As you can see, A Little Spark is more than just a story. Its timeless message leaves you with a sense of purpose. You can’t help but feel like you can do anything once you’ve read it. Our hope is that you take that sense of purpose and do amazing things with it.

The story teaches many lessons, and those lessons are essential to helping children from “2 to 82” build good character traits. To help parents and educators teach these lessons, we are developing plans for teaching. We really want this to become a lifestyle for people, finding their spark, not just something they read and forget. You can find these lessons at the end of the book as well as on our website. (And look for more detailed information on each lesson in future blog posts!)

One of my proofreaders offered this commentary:

I thought it was really great that you included the discussion points at the back, such a positive message about facing our fears, having faith in ourselves but doing our best to help and make a difference - and sorely needed in today's world!

That comment from someone who had spent hours reading the book captured everything I had hoped to achieve when I began this journey. Moments like this give you the energy and drive to take the hill.

If our story can help even just a few people to Be That Spark, then I feel like we’ll have done our job. It’s my hope that we reach more than just “a few,” though. As more and more people read the book and learn the lessons, I can only dream of how much better the world will become.

Be That Spark

To Those who need a little Spark, a hand up, a break, a chance – may you find your way and do great things.

And So The Story Begins

I was surrounded by storytellers growing up in my little fishing community of Flatrock, Newfoundland. I wanted to learn more about the world, the places, the people they spoke of. When our kids were small, we read the classics to them and I began adding my own stories to the mix. The audience for these stories grew to include a wider circle of kids. I truly enjoyed their reaction (like my own reaction as I listened to my father and grandfather). Every story had a lesson and I felt good about sharing it with my audience.

Over time my audience disappeared as they grew up, but I continued to create my stories and characters mostly for my own enjoyment. Then it happened, about 5 years ago I had this story called “A Little Spark”. I started to make the time to work on it, to write it down and occasionally share it with some folks around me.

It evolved to a point a few years later when I decided to pursue it with the same energy and focus I had I given to other aspects of my life.

Over the past few years ago I decided to go all in and with the help of some incredible people,  here we are. One of the first things I did was to create my own little company called Zuroam Media. This was important to me because it made things real and provided a focus.

“All in” you say, well, I decided to leave my job as an executive in a large technology company to focus all my time and effort to bring “Spark” to life. There were a number of people, who will remain unnamed, who were “somewhat” surprised (shocked a better word) but they felt my passion and they were intrigued by the story and the vision.

We believe that children’s literature is a powerful force to shape and nurture the minds of tomorrow’s leaders. The combination of a great story, beautiful illustrations, rich characters combined with music can truly engage young minds. It can inspire young audiences in a way that will help them develop critical thinking skills and to

Be That Spark

Over the coming months I will share with you what I have learned along the way and update you on the progress towards the launch – first you need to review our website Be That Spark. There you can get a feel for the “Be That Spark” theme and the book “A Little Spark”. – the book trailer, the music, a sample of the audiobook, some early reviews and much more.

A Little Spark

When the survival of their hometown is threatened, two unlikely comrades join forces on a quest to defeat a dangerous enemy and bring back the only one who can save them all.

This Blog – “The Be That Spark Blog” is part Journal, part “How To” and part “How Not To”. I will introduce you to some truly amazing people who have helped me along the way and have contributed to this effort: from the story and editing, to the design of the book, the creation of the music, the launch on social media. Then, most importantly to the parents, grandparents and kids who allowed me to share the story with them and have provided incredible feedback to help shape this project.

Over the coming months we will launch on social media and kick-off our PR campaign along with a million other things that I will share with you as we go along.

In subsequent Blog posts I plan to cover a range of topics, including:

  • Be That Spark – the lessons of “Be That Spark” and how they relate to how we live our lives and the lives of our children.
  • The power of reading aloud combined with music– discussion of how reading aloud with a touch of music helps the development of young minds.
  • The Power of Music – music plays a central part of the book. Our experience and many sources of research show how music can make a difference.
  • A Grandfather’s View – a guest blogger (Bob J) will provides his perspective of a Little Spark – he has been involved as an “engaged” participant for the past 2 years.
  • The Teacher and the classroom – as part of the our journey “A Little Spark” was used a pilot project for a grade Grade 1 class – a program to help teachers re-enforce good character traits.
  • Being Ned Newf - Being a  friend and what it means from the perspective of the lovable character of Ned Newf.
  • Understanding Your Audience – The Kids Test – how we engaged with the ‘target” audience to refine the “book” experience – the learnings that helped shape our effort.
  • What I learned about publishing a Children’s Book – I will share my experience with everything for picking an illustrator, to working (or not working) with publishers, to figuring out where to get a book printed, to getting my book distributed and everything in between.

We are officially four months from launch on Oct 1st – the hardcover book, eBook, audiobook, the album and our YouTube channel.

And So the Journey continues – Welcome aboard.

Chris Parsons

When the survival of their hometown is threatened, two unlikely comrades join forces on a quest to defeat a dangerous enemy and bring back the only one who can save them all.