Twelve Senses: Not Just Five in the Human Being - Part I August 12 2016

Part I : The Physical Senses

One of the pillars of Waldorf education that defies ordinary thinking lives in the comprehension of the twelve senses of the human being—and, particularly, the child.

Recent scientific inquiry has begun to affirm this picture of the multiplicity of senses in each individual, exploring beyond the simpler view of just the five senses.  Taste, touch, sight, smell, and hearing are the familiar listing for the senses that make us human.

However, consider how sensible the listing of the twelve senses is for a whole picture of human consciousness stimulated by our senses.

First, the physical senses, where the focus of the early childhood teacher stands:
  • The sense of touch
  • The sense of life
  • The sense of movement
  • The sense of balance

      Science has proven that a baby left untouched by human beings is unlikely to survive.  The sense of touch is as important, therefore, as warmth and food for a baby’s survival.  A child’s sense of touch can be distorted by abuse, physical or sexual, and children who are neglected are often devoid of discernment between a gentle touch and a slap. 

      The sense of life is shown in a child’s robust appearance and happy approach to the daily experience of life.  Children who are loved, cared for properly, dressed sensibly, fed adequately and who are sure the world is a good place to live, have a strong sense of life, and of well-being. 

      A sense of movement is both a sense of one’s own movement and a sense of movement in the world around one, distinct from one’s own movement.  As young children learn to move in the space around them they grow increasingly aware of their own movement, it’s impact on others, and of the movements of those people, trees, animals, and vehicles around them.

      The sense of balance is a key factor in a baby’s life and shows up as soon as the child begins to walk.  That charming, staggering, unsure gait of any one-and-a-half year old demonstrates profoundly the hard won capacity of balance in the human being’s uprightness.  How many times is a burgeoning toddler willing to stand up, fall down, and stand up again, without giving up until balance is achieved?  No one could count!  As balance is mastered, these wobbly first efforts are forgotten, but never underestimate the powerful capacity of balance we all worked to achieve.

      These four of the twelve senses, when developed in a healthy child, could be called the foundation for a life of health and happiness.  The absence of any one of these can be joy diminishing or even life threatening.  They constitute the basic capacities necessary to participate in the world without anxiety and with maximum freedom of movement and confidence.