I am preparing for a class I will give next month and I thought perhaps my thoughts and notes might be a nice thing to share here.In my years of homeschooling I was always drawn toward working with the 12 senses that Steiner describes. I have gathered here much of my working knowledge of how to nurture the senses through daily home activities.
The Waldorf educational theory of development puts forth the idea of 12 senses, which are sometimes described as “upper” and “lower” and often placed into categories that coincide with the commonly understood “threefold” framework of “thinking, feeling and willing” or “head, heart and hands”. Each of these 12 senses are interconnected on a very deep level. It is suggested that through the nourishment of the senses in younger years, parents, caregivers and teachers can help to lay a foundation and remove obstacles to allow for healthy, happy development throughout life. It is also possible to work with these senses in a remedial way at any age.
The 12 senses:
The first list, the “will” senses are considered to be key foundational senses associated with the earliest phase of childhood, from birth to age 7. These four senses are said to lead to the proper blossoming of the last four “thinking” senses in the adolescent years between 14 and 21. The middle four “feeling” senses are of course key to our experience of the world but they play a special role during the middle phase of childhood from 7-14.
In a general sense, all of the activities of Waldorf education are designed with the understanding of nourishment of the senses. Early education and “old fashioned” home life activities are by nature helpful to the will and feeling senses. Rhythm and harmony in the home and in school are key elements for the natural development of the senses. Art, music, nature and beauty are essential to enlivening the senses. When there are children or individuals who suffer from various difficulties, it can be helpful to work with the strengthening of certain senses to bring about a more harmonious state of being.
It is also worth stating here that a happy and peaceful caregiver is generally able to provide the best environment for children to flourish. Working to harmonize one’s own senses can have profound positive effects on a family, a home, a workplace or classroom. When we feel good, we can do good.
Following is a detailed description of the ideal state of each of the 12 senses and ways in which those senses can be nurtured.
Balance - Awareness of ones own space, ability to rest and find stillness. Posture, flexibility and finding a proper perspective flow from a healthy sense of balance. (Music, rhythmic activities, sequence games, drawing symmetrical or woven forms, carving, climbing, balancing).
Movement - Gracefulness, awareness of ones own movement in space, closeness and distance. Appropriate social behavior comes with a healthy sense of movement. (Walking, dancing, rhythmic games, walking forms and shapes. Drawing on the back with a finger, painting, weaving, finger knitting).
Life - Sense of well-being, soul level peace vs. nervousness, tension or stress. A healthy life sense results in a relaxed, alert and harmonious attitude. Rhythm, healthy sleep, proper digestion and a sense of safety are essential to healthy life sense. (Music, dance, color experiences, form drawing with mirror forms and metamorphic forms, walks or activities in nature).
Touch - Awareness of pressure, resistance, texture. Ability to distinguish oneself from ones surroundings. The birth process is the first opportunity to begin developing the sense of touch. (Swaddling, massage, baths, cocoon or “burrito” wrapping, games involving texture, body and hair brushing, sculpture, setting of clear boundaries). I liked to play the "fishing" game with my boys, either filling a big bin with warm scented water or filling a big bowl or bin with dried beans and hiding little treasures for the boys to try to catch with their toes. Also, the "feely bag" activity of placing several different textured or shaped objects in a dark soft sack and asking the children to guess what shape or guess the object.
Temperature - Warmth, coolness, sympathy, enthusiasm, love. (Activities that transform from one thing to another such as cooking, baking, gardening, building, sculpting. Also social arts and activities like games, singing, acting). Warm baths or warm scented wash cloths are nice in cool weather and cool scented spritzers are nice in hot weather.
Smell - Perception, judgement, memory. (Activities with spiritual connection, time in nature, scent experiences). I love to make my own playdough and add essential oils to the warm fresh dough.
Taste - Digestion, assimilation, ingestion, artistic taste. (Food preparation and meal presentation, painting, music, poetry and the appreciation of those arts). Blindfold taste tests are fun and can serve as a gentle entry into "science" curriculum. It is also great to get kids involved with making food and arranging it in beautiful ways. Wild food salads, home grown tea blends and edible flowers help combine many senses and get kids engaged with healthy food in fun ways.
Sight - Form, color, light, imagination. (Painting, drawing, sculpting, acting).
Hearing - Perception of sounds, tones, words of others, receiving input from the world. (Music, singing, poetry both listening and reciting, acting, experiencing silence). *Connected to the sense of balance.
Speech - Perception of thoughts and expression of thoughts, understanding and expressing through gesture as well as through words. (Poetry, literature, acting, ball bouncing or tossing while reciting, finger knitting, drawing with negative space). *Connected to the sense of movement.
Thought - Understanding of the inner character, ideas and truth. Ability to reflect, use clear judgement. (Metamorphic form drawing and mirror forms, memory games). *Connected to the sense of life.
Ego or the Sense of “I” - Perception of ones individuality and the individuality of others. (Music, dancing, group activities, singing, cooperative activities, spiral forms). *Connected to the sense of touch.