I’ve always been more interested in doing things than just observing. As a child, one of my fondest memories from school was the year we studied prehistoric man. Several students and I tried to tan a deer hide using obsidian “knives” which we had made. I can still remember all the hard work and the horrible smells as we worked on that hide. Despite our heroic efforts, we were only able to really tan a section of the hide about the size of the palm of my hand, but I’ll never forget the experience or the process.
As I started teaching, I wanted to make learning come alive for my students just as my fifth grade teacher had done for me. Using a multi-sensory approach with such projects as building and stocking a covered wagon in order to get an appreciation of the living in the 1840’s, mummifying a chicken during an Ancient Egypt unit or making bread and cutting up a pizza to learn about measurements, succeeded beyond my wildest expectations. After four years of teaching fourth grade, I spent a year in eastern Oregon working as a reading specialist. I wanted to incorporate this multi-sensory concept to reading and language arts, but was not completely satisfied with my efforts at the time. I did find the students responded well to a game format, but the games were used more for extra reinforcement rather than the initial learning process.
After finishing my Master’s Degree in 1976, I was married and taught for a year in West Linn, OR before “retiring” to begin our family. If I thought I was “retiring”, I needed to think again. Within five years we had two children with special needs. Our first child was born with club feet. He sustained multiple traumas from subsequent surgeries, hindering his ability to learn. This expanded my education to include exercises and therapies involving a multi-sensory approach to healing and learning. It also provided an opportunity for me to experience the other side of the educational process as we tried to get the help my son needed. One of the learning issues my son had was an inability to write legibly. After the arduous process of testing and qualifying for special education, he was “allowed” the use of a typewriter in elementary school. Unfortunately, this was at a time when there was no instruction for typing or key boarding available until high school. I remember being told if I wanted to get the help he needed, I would have to fight for him because I was the only advocate he had. That comment had a profound effect on me. Not only did I succeed in convincing the local high school to allow him to go up and take a typing class during his lunch hour, but it created a desire in me to fight for other kids that might not have parents or others to advocate for them.
Our efforts with our son were rewarded as he moved from special education classes in grade school to advanced placement classes in high school where he graduated with honors. He went on to study Greek, publish poetry, earn a double major in math and philosophy as an undergraduate, and went on to do graduate work. He went on to be the top 30 in his field under the age of 30 in the U.S.
As our first child entered high school, our second child had a spiderman-like experience in elementary school. She experienced severe electrical trauma at a school science fair. She sustained a brain injury in the left side of her brain. Over the next few years, the doctors told us there was no hope for her re-education, no hope for her to be able to hold a job later in life, and that she would have to live with us permanently. This began my quest for a way to re-teach her using the uninjured right side of her brain. I learned it was important to test for the effects of her injuries on her learning and adapt teaching to her needs. After an unsuccessful term back at school, I decided to teach her myself. In addition to advocating for her, I used everything I had learned through the years of teaching, therapy with our son, and all of my research.
Through this research, a multi-sensory, brain based program with the use of a game format and movement (kinesthetic approach) resulted in the success we desired. Instead of focusing on others’ weaknesses I focus on their strengths. This program also included critical thinking skills and problem solving/discovery techniques. In one short year she showed a growth of eight grade levels in reading.
After living independently over 3000 miles away, despite what the doctors said, she graduated grad school at the top of her class with a Master of Fine Arts degree at a prestigious institution. She is now balancing a career as an artist, a professor of art, and a musician. Her artwork has been shown in galleries on the east and west coast. She is also a world traveler and has spoken and inspired others by telling her transformational story.
The initial program developed for my daughter was a reading program that included phonics, spelling, handwriting, fluency, and comprehension. Furthermore, the Language arts program includes grammar, sentence structure, paragraphing/essay construction, composition, and punctuation. Imaginative themes prove to be extremely important in producing enthusiastic learners. These programs are used in private schools, the home schooling community in the United States and internationally in Portugal, Japan, and Israel.
The use of these programs with my children, as well as many other students, demonstrate the success of this kind of learning!
Pam Davis, Owner/Director of Imagination Learning Center