Why Developing The Senses Is important For Children, Life And A better World
Director of Life Rocks
The world of senses is our world. Senses are intimately linked to our existence; the seeing, feeling, hearing, smelling, tasting and sensing faculties of the human are how we interact and shape our experiences and awareness of the world. When these senses are developed, we have depth, understanding, relatedness, awareness and a sense of where we are, what we are doing and who we want to be. When the senses are underdeveloped or partially developed – we are sensually fragmented and out of touch with our world, displaced from the potential of being at one with reality or even knowing that we are a part of reality. The world we have inherited, full of technology and sense overload, does little to develop our senses fully without the application of great care. Playing loud music, watching flashing colours, eating foods engineered to dominate the flavour sensing units in our mouths – this is how the modern world enforces itself upon the human, through overpowering the subtleties of our senses and reinforcing that “this is the world that is most powerful, the one world to remember”. If all we have known is the taste of processed food, will the taste of Nature inspire us or bring us revulsion in its apparent blandness? Will our children hear a bird call, over the slot machine-like noises of the video games our children play? How many senses are there? People will debate – Aristotle formally immortalised the original and commonly known 5 senses ( touch, taste, sight, smell, and hearing), yet since Aristotles’ distillation, there have emerged other theories on the number of the senses from neuroscientists, biologists, teachers and philosophers alike. The numbers range from 5 through to 22 and even beyond in some cases. People seem to feel comfortable accepting 9 senses as a genuine “new” standard for the amount of human senses. Some of the other senses are less obvious but quite worthy of the title are; The sense of our body in space ( proprioception), The awareness of external and internal temperature ( thermoception), The sense of balance ( vestibular system), The sense of ones own inner health ( visceroperception) The sense of language and sound (language sense) The sense of our thoughts ( thinking) The sense of another’s individual experience ( social sense/ “I” sense) Some will argue that these are simply an extension of other senses and interpretations of sensory data received and decoded via the brain. The debate will continue beyond each of our lives combined. Rudolph Steiner was one who put forth 12 senses that included this expanded list. Regardless of whether these other senses are extensions of the other sense organs, the reality is that people have an experience of these things. People are sensing these things. Thoughts are something that are observed. We are aware of how others feel, or what their needs might be. Is it all visual and auditory cues that govern this process? Is it the neural map of experience that governs the process? Surely, both are at play. What matters is that these explorations and ideas about the sensory world of humans is so fundamental to who and what we are, that we must cherish the senses, work with them and build a world that supports their development. Without an ability to sense or perceive the world, our world is cast into darkness. So why do we starve our modern children of sensory development through having them spend hours in front of a television that only stimulates sight and sound? The television or iPad leaves the child watching, void of experiencing the richness of the other senses that the human child is so capable and ready to develop if given the right environment. We do not starve our children’s senses because we want to or because we think that is a good idea! The modern world seems to know no better, yet at the same time - always knows best. The modern world cherishes its darlings; the intellect, logic, language and mathematics and relegates the somatic, artistic, spatial and social to the realm of secondary importance. Yet any thinking person knows that this is an unbalanced way to be. A human cannot thrive in the pursuit of the intellect without the support of a grounded, healthy and embodied life full of joy, beauty and a connection to Nature. Yet the education system still pushes academic achievement over sensory development, even in the early years. Everything intellectual, needs a physical carrier and it is the senses that build and shape the body that holds and allows the intellect to exist. So let's imagine for a moment a world that cherished the value of the senses in achieving a higher order of development. A world in which, it was recognised that to fully develop the human faculties of higher thought, that the senses must be fully activated and cultivated. This world will be full of wonder, full of rich beauty and sensual stimulation. A world where Nature, art, beauty, nourishment and quality are all held in high regard. A world in which children are able to experience the qualities of life without being pushed too early into the “necessities” of modern life - work, intellect, abstraction and so on. Quality is a keyword, as quality is the language of the senses. One cannot smell a smell and say how many particles of “smell” are being smelled. One must smell the smell and experience its value through sensing it. To translate a smell into language is not an act of mathematics, but an art of expression and a statement of quality. A world that cherishes the qualities of life will not be so quick to disregard the subtle experiences of humans as “outliers” or “unimportant”, but these experiences can instead generate curiosity and further development. When we suppress, atrophy or inhibit the senses, we block, dam and cut off from feeling. This is a coping mechanism induced via an environment that has lopsided requests of our sensory abilities, or is insensitive to the needs and desires of the senses to find pleasure and order. The world we live in seeks to quantify everything that is real, labelling and defining – seeking to cut through the flimsy and subjective senses to get to the truth. For instance, a great tree is a source of shelter to some animals, it is a beautiful friend to another, it is a source of shade to one who reads books underneath it and to another, it is a great being that holds ancient wisdom – but according to modern science, it is simply “x” species, has “x” purpose and “x” lifespan and so on. Subjectivism and reductive science have rendered common peoples truths to be made into subjective non-truths, which are simply stories told over the objective reality of atoms, molecules and other moving pieces that constitute the tree. In C.S Lewis’s book "Education and the Abolition of Man”, he shares his thoughts that this reductive education will be the end of humanity as we know it. A humanity that will be told what to think, what to feel, and what is experienced - all dictates not from an authority that has any value in morality, ethics, truth or beauty. So instead of thinking that we need to educate our children in the ways of the world, or to tell our children how it is, what it is and why it is from our book of facts obtained via science – let’s slow down. Let's stop the push for academic success and look at what reality is showing us. Children who spend more time developing their senses in a holistic manner are more well-rounded, more intelligent, healthier, social and self-determined. The modern world seeks to dam the senses and overstimulate our visual and language senses with information, often coming from this reductive mindset. Let's take back our senses and explore through creative play, Nature and genuine connection with the world around us, which is full of things to do and experience.