Child Development

Words of Waldorf Wisdom

The Foundational Senses: Supporting the Senses at Home

One of the most important contributions Rudolf Steiner made to Waldorf education and our understanding of the human being was introducing the concept that human beings have twelve senses to explore, experience and perceive the world. Steiner understood that human beings utilized a more complex system of sense impressions in our interactions with the world than the traditional five senses. The five senses provide only a base line for our human experience and understanding. If we wish to gain deeper insight into humanity, then it is necessary to expand our awareness and knowledge of the human senses and our consciousness. Steiner proposed and identified the twelve senses as touch, life, self-movement, balance, smell, taste, sight, warmth, hearing, speech, thinking and ego. 

In the first seven years of life, Waldorf early childhood teachers focus on cultivating and developing the first four lower senses or foundational senses for the human being.

The four foundational senses we cultivate, strengthen and provide opportunities to develop in early childhood are the sense of touch (tactile ), the sense of life (well being), sense of movement (proprioceptive) and sense of balance (vestibular). These four senses are important and essential to cultivate and develop in the first seven year cycle as they provide the foundation children need in order to achieve academic, social, emotional and physical success.

 

The four foundational senses develop:

Emotional wellbeing-feeling secure, loved, supported and connected to your family, community and physical world

Spatial orientation- knowing where you are in space and how to relate to your environment

Body Geography-knowing the geography of your own body and how to use your physical body

Dominance-dominance on either the right or left side of the body

 

How to support the sense of touch in the home:

  • Blanket wraps before bedtime with firm pressure to relax and provide a sense of boundary for the child

  • Back, foot and hand massages with different types of pressure based on your child’s preference

  • Drawing on your child’s back different shapes, pictures and forms (play a guessing game with each other)

  • Different sensory experiences and textures (washing dishes in water, play dough, playing in the sand, soft blankets and fabric materials for play)

 

How to support the sense of life or well-being in the home:

  • Predictable rhythm and routines to cultivate a sense of security

  • Warming foods and drinks (have regular tea time at home; children can help prepare the tea leaves and can learn to pour at the right temperature)

  • Times in the day for active play and engagement and resting and "tune in" times for processing and digesting experiences and information (nap, quiet time, reading time or drawing time)

  • Outdoor play experiences, nature walks and family time

 

How to support the sense of movement in the home:

  • Movement games with the family (crawling like a bear, rolling like a seal, creeping like a cat and flying like an eagle with arms and legs stretched out on child’s tummy)

  • Lifting and carrying heavy objects and materials in the home (yard work, carrying heavy food items)

  • Chores and tidy time (sweeping the floor, washing the table, making the bed, folding blankets)

  • Going for a nature walk and climbing stairs

 

How to support sense of balance in the home:

  • Rolling on the floor or down a grassy hill

  • Spinning games (parent holds child and spins around together)

  • Animal games balancing on one foot, two feet and closing eyes (simon says balance challenges)

  • Nature walks-walking on different surfaces, walking on fallen trees, jumping from logs or flat stones​