“The New Cathedral is the social fabric that we will build with one another.” -unknown
Who we are begins in-utero and our earliest years, birth to seven. These years shape us dramatically through subtle events, so often overlooked: How we play as children, how our earliest movements are initiated or hindered, and how we “sense” things: our relationship to the rest of the world.
Renewal Magazine talks about strengthening the foundational senses of the young child. These foundational senses, how they are filled with grace, set the stage for how they will influence the four highest senses. The dutch Dr. Albert Soesman writes in his book, “Our Twelve Senses”, the paradigm of separating the senses into, four of each: lower, middle, and higher.
- The Will/Foundational/Lower senses are how children relate to their own body: touch, life, movement, and balance.
- The Feeling/ Middle senses relate us to the world around us: smell, taste, vision, and warmth.
- The Thinking/ Higher senses relate us to each-other: hearing/ tone, speech/ word concept/ thought for the other, and sense of ego.
All these senses are completely developed in the first seven years. When looking for a school, an activity, or a toy for your child, let’s put ourselves in the child’s shoes and ask ourselves how is the curriculum serving the whole development? In looking at the world through this lens, we quickly realize that we do not need so many of the contraptions the “baby” industry tells us to buy. First developing the lower senses of our babies, touch, light, movement, and balance through vestibular stimulation, warmth, and of course love is the greatest gift we can give them.
Looking more closely at the sense of touch in regards to how Soesman explains it. A child with “tactile defensive issues” may hit, stomp around, or resist wearing layers of clothing (he hates those bunchy sleeves!); hitting is a way to protect, as their skin is so extremely sensitive to touch and pressure. Other signs of sense of touch issues are being: touchy, grumpy, bossy, bumping up against things (to try to learn their place in the world). An anecdote for a little boy who hits his parents, Connie Gentry, a remedial education specialist, suggests to parents giving firm pressure (“Sit on him!” rough-house play and wrestling is healthy), lots of extra hugs, games which include wrapping in blankets, burying in sand. After six days- no more hitting.
Dr. Harvey Karp of ‘The Happiest Baby on the Block’ helps develop a newborn’s lower senses during his “4th trimester” (the next four months after a baby is born), though the “Five S’s”.
- Sucking, strengthens oral structure
- Swinging- very calming for infant, important vestibular stimulation
- Side or Stomach helps stop crying
- Shushing (“shhhhhh”) sounds like the womb, very calming
We may see a child with many irrational fears when the life sense is unhealthy. It has been observed that children who have had alot of antibiotics often have a weak life sense. We can remediate a huge dose of anti-biotics with a huge dose of nursery rhymes (yes, they serve a therapeutic function!). Rhymes, rhymes, rhymes. There is a reason why a parent often instinctually rhymes and sings to their children. The process of reading begins with hearing. Hearing correlates directly with balance of the vestibular system. Exercising the sense of balance cultivates ones sense of self. Another technique for fostering the life sense is using the color magenta. Use Holbein rose- violet watercolor, sit down with your child and paint it onto wet paper, and watch the magic. It will calm him quickly. Magenta is the color of birth, of the new dawn. Children with a weak life sense also have not been allowed to suffer (i.e. fall down, cry, have tears, not get the toy they want, etc…). Children who are not given the opportunity to suffer as young children, as a result, suffer more as young adults.
So much can be said about the foundational sense of movement, where our child’s will really shines through. to develop this sense babies and kids need floor-time to learn about spatial relationships/ orientation: left to right, top, to bottom, etc… Crawling is an important milestone to strengthen proprioceptive responses. Stretching is what we first do in the morning, lifting is when we consciously have to lift a limb. In stretching and lifting we promote “levity”. Snatching things away abruptly is a “gravity” gesture. We want to teach our children to give and recieve things gently (“catch, don’t snatch”). Facilitate the sense of movement by getting outside and taking hikes. Movement correlates directly to the higher sense of speech (think of a speaker gesturing with their hands or the way conversation flows on a walk). Children are happiest when they are physically tired by the end of the day. A sedentary life-style weakens the sense of movement and depression is seen as a result. So we play with our kids, circle time, dance parties, hand clapping… Whatever we do we have to bring it in joy. Also, really observe your children and how they move. Children know instinctively what they need to develop themselves.
We have the same nervous system that people had 2,000 years ago. Sensory integration needs to happen in the first seven years of life. And as we know, the foundational senses of life, movement, balance, and touch directly correlate to higher senses of thinking, reasoning, and conceptualizing. Our inner ear, connects to a place in the brain called the vestibular nucleus. Every sensory experience goes through it. If the vestibular system is not functioning optimally, things can be thrown out of balance. Self movement is the proprioception sense, helping the young child find boundaries. We often see school children tipping backwards in their chairs. They are trying to strengthen their sense of balance. We watch for these types of movements and find a creative way to feed the urge. Games with “point and Periphery” as an organizing principle work great for proprioception, such as ‘Ring around the Rosie’ or ‘Sally Go Round the Sun’. Now a most basic movement is breathing. Children need to learn how to breath in order to sleep properly and effectively. We teach breathing by moving in and out between moments, by reading rhythmic prose to them (i.e. nursery rhymes), singing, swinging, and giving the day a structure that “breathes”- periods of activity followed by periods of rest. Let’s look at the self initiated movement of a newborn. When their limbs are moving sporadically they are agitated. We want to encourage a midline orientation (i.e. hands resting together); this denotes a baby who is calm and content. In older children we can help them be calm and balanced by creatively bringing the midline orientation into their activities (i.e. hand clapping, juggling, back and forth archetypal movements, etc…).
Children should initiate their own movements, but we can help them breath through an experience. Education of the will comes in through true and honest sensory experiences. Beginning with the sense of touch, which is tactile, leading to tact. Tact being what Steiner called “the highest social art”. When it comes to young children birth to age seven the best we can do is exude warmth. When warmth, a middle sense, is integrated with the child, we can perceive warm enthusiasm, we feel it and can give it to others. The medicine being the joy and wonder that comes out of being relaxed and at-ease.