Synesthesia, a biological phenomenon that causes some people to sense objects and experiences in a different way, always fascinated my students. People who associate colors with different numbers or scents with specific sounds might be accused of making up these unusual perceptions, but scientists have proved that this genetic trait does exist. In fact, some famous musical and visual artists may have had the benefit of synesthesia in their creative endeavors.
In this lesson plan from Google Arts and Culture, “Seeing Sound with Kandinsky,” students can learn about the painter Wassily Kandinsky’s relationship with music and its affect on his art. (Slide 8 specifically refers to Kandinsky’s synesthesia and offers links that elaborate on it.)
According to the TED Ed video, “What Color is Tuesday?” around 4% of the population are synesthetes. Students will, of course, want to know if they are possible synesthetes. They can take a quick test like this one, but I always caution them that this is just for fun and not at all scientific. For a simple paper and pencil task, there is a fun example on the Neuroscience for Kids site.
This lesson plan from The Art of Education includes several more activities and links, including one to a site where you can type in your name to find out the color palette one synesthete, Bernadette Sheridan, would visualize. And, way back in 2015, I wrote about a site where you can type in your own message and generate music with the letters. (It still works!)
If you’re interested in literature for children in which characters have synesthesia, here is a good list. One of the choices is The Noisy Paint Box, a book about – you guessed it – Kandinsky as a young boy.
Whether studying neuroscience, art, music, or gifts that make us different, you will find that synesthesia is an intriguing topic for any age level.