Our Eight Senses

We all have eight senses that make up our sensory system: sight, smell, touch, taste, auditory, vestibular, proprioception and interoception. The last three are not as well known, with vestibular relating to our sense of balance, proprioception being our awareness of our body in space, and interoception enabling us to understand what we are experiencing in our body (whether we are hungry or thirsty, for example).

Recently, some of the children have been participating in sensory circuits, short sensory motor skills activities lasting 10 to 15 minutes, that help them to recalibrate and regulate themselves during the day.

Sensory circuits mainly integrate the tactile, vestibular and proprioceptive senses. They allow children to reset, to be in the optimum state of alertness and ready to learn, as they receive the sensory input that they seek. The circuits consist of three stages: alerting, organizing, and calming.

Activities that may happen in the alerting stage, depending on the child’s needs, could be bouncing on a gym ball, doing jumping jacks, skipping or hopscotch. These activities activate the vestibular and proprioceptive systems. The organizing stage dictates that children organize their body to plan and sequence a number of activities that may include navigating an obstacle course on a scooter board or balancing on a wobble board while throwing beanbags at a target. The calming stage is my personal favourite; it is the stage wherein we employ calming strategies such as deep breathing or yoga poses. All three stages incorporate fine and gross motor skills.

Many people may have heard of the cup analogy: that when our cup is filled to just the right level, we can function at our most effective, and be enabled to work productively and achieve goals. Everyone has different sized cups and so require varying types and levels of sensory input.

Sensory circuits somewhat work off this principle, and remind us that some children may need sensory input throughout the day to fill their cup, or perhaps require less input if their cup is overflowing. For the majority of children, the Montessori environment naturally provides sensory input through movement, a wide variety of learning materials, lots of space including quiet areas, and sensorial activities. For others, a little bit extra may be necessary.

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