According to Waldorf Education and parenting, the twelve senses are what unites the inner and outer world of the individual and what allows us healthy interaction with other people at the highest developed levels. It takes a long time for these senses to be developed, but the foundational senses needed to develop some of the upper senses are most enveloped within the first seven years.
For those of you who are new to this blog, here is a brief recap of the twelve senses: (and for those of you wondering the Daena Ross presentation I am referring to can be found here at this link: http://www.waldorfinthehome.org/2005/04/the_twelve_senses.html#more).
The Lower Senses are seen in our will forces, they are unconscious, and they manifest in the metabolic-limbic system. These include:
The Sense of Touch – through the organ of the skin. This includes what is inside of me and what is outside of me. Important ways to boost this foundational sense include vaginal birth, swaddling, holding, positive tactile experiences (NOT PASSIVE experiences, like through media or Baby Einstein! Active experiences!) The lack of completion of this sense is strongly related to ADHD according to Daena Ross.
The Sense of Life or sometimes called The Sense of Well-Being – this encompasses such things as if you can tell if you are tired, thirsty, hungry. The best way to boost this sense is to provide your children with a rhythm to help support this while it is developing. Some children have great difficulty recognizing their own hunger or thirst cues, or their own need for rest or sleep. A rhythm can be a great therapeutic help in this regard.
The Sense of Self-Movement – this is probably more familiar to therapists in some ways as the “proprioceptive system” in some ways. This sense encompasses the ability to move and hold back movement, and can also encompass such sensory experiences as containment (which can be a form of massage for premature babies) and also swaddling. Childhood games that involve starting and stopping can also affect this sense.
The Sense of Balance – This is balance in two separate realms, from what I gather from the Daena Ross presentation. It is not only the ability to balance by use of the semicircular canals of the ears for midline balance so one can cross midline but also refers to the balance of life and being able to be centered, which again goes back to rhythm and the idea of in-breath and out-breath. Donna Simmons calls this one a gateway to The Middle Senses.
I wrote an article about these lower senses for the Waldorf Baby that may be interesting reading for some of you here: http://www.christopherushomeschool.org/early-years-nurturing-young-children-at-home/the-waldorf-baby/not-too-hot-not-too-cold.html
The Middle Senses are seen in our feeling lives, involve us reaching out into the world a bit, they are seen as “dreamy” senses and manifesting in the rhythmic system. THE CHILD HAS NO FILTER TO FILTER THESE SENSORY EXPERIENCES OUT IN THE EARLY YEARS. In the later years, the arts build these senses, which is why the Waldorf curriculum includes teaching through art in the grades. These senses include:
The Sense of Smell – strongly correlated with memory. This can be an ally in education of the grades age child, but beware of scented everything when your children are in the foundational first seven years.
The Sense of Taste – Not only on a physical plane, but an emotional plane in naming experiences (a “putrid” experience, a “sweet” experience)
The Sense of Sight – with two different ways to visualize something: one is the ability to distinguish color, and the other is the ability to distinguish form (which Daena Ross says is more related to The Sense of Self-Movement). The best way to help this sense is to protect the eye from media while developing. A way to bolster this sense in the grades, but not the Early under 7 Years, is through form drawing.
The Sense of Warmth – Donna Simmons calls this one a gateway to The Higher Senses. This sense does not fully develop until age 9 and can literally cause a hardening of creativity and new thought as the child matures, but also can refer to a literal inability of the child to be able to tell if they are hot or cold. Warmth implies not only physical warmth, but warmth on a soul level. Joy, humor, love, connection are all important developers of this sense along with PROTECTION from extreme and garish sensory experiences that would cause hardening. This is a very important sense, and children need help with protecting this sense until the age of 9 or 10, so much longer than many parents think!
The Upper or Higher Senses develop during adolescence and require a strong foundation of The Lower Senses and The Middle Senses to come to maturity. These senses are associated with awakening of the individual, with being concerned with other people and are seen as being centered in The Head. These senses include:
The Sense of Hearing (which Daena Ross calls “a bridge between The Middle and Higher Senses” in her presentation) This requires completion of The Sense of Balance – both of these senses involve the organ of the ear.
The Sense of Speech or The Sense of the Word (this is the speech of another person, not yourself) – Requires completion of The Sense of Self-Movement as you must be able to quiet your own speech in order to really hear another person.
The Sense of Thought or The Sense of Concept (again, of the other person, not your own thoughts!) – Requires completion of The Sense of Well-Being. Rhythm builds this ability to quiet oneself in order to hear someone else’s thoughts.
The Sense of the Individuality of the Other (Donna Simmons also calls this the “I-Thou” relationship of boundaries) – This requires integration and completion of all senses, but particularly involves The Sense of Touch according to Daena Ross.
In our work as parents of small children, we should be seeking to protect the lower senses and enhance them. The way we do this through the Early Years is through PROTECTION, through repetition, warmth, rhythm, less stimulation and talking, keeping children in their bodies. Unfortunately, anthroposophists and Waldorf educators seem to be the only group right now who really understand this importance. Here is an interesting video clip regarding how a trip to the grocery store can be over-stimulating to the senses for an infant, and some interesting physiological facts about an infant’s senses: http://www.hulu.com/watch/6093/wild-baby-senses#x-4,vclip,1
In the meantime, society keeps pushing adult schedules and stimulation on small children and the rates of sensory disorders and autism spectrum are skyrocketing.
The opportunity to protect our children’s senses in the phase where the child is noted as one giant sensory organ taking in all sensory experiences really doesn’t last too long. Take advantage of this special time!