Clay and The 12 Senses

This past weekend was the 4th Annual Waldorf Gateways Conference, with keynote speaker, Dr. Adam Blanning.  Dr Blanning is trained in family practice medicine and in anthroposophically extended medicine.  I enjoyed learning about Health and Well-Being for Children and Families, and especially enjoyed my two workshops.  

The clay...wonderful for our 12 senses!  Hopefully that's making you think a little, are you familiar with our 12 senses?  The first 5 are easy... vision, smell, taste, hearing, and touch.  And then?  

Imagine working with clay-first you will see the clay, and then reach out and touch it.  You may bring it up to your nose to smell, but hopefully you don't stick your tongue out to taste it.  The clay may feel cold, or start to warm up as you work it in your hands.  You probably won't hear too much from the clay, except the quiet of the room, or other voices.  If you hear voices, you may hear words being spoken; you may have thoughts about those words, or just in your head about what you are doing or creating.  If you think too much, that ball of clay may turn into a big lump of nothing.  

As you knead the clay, or roll it as a ball, you start to bring in your sense of balance.  Moving your body as you work the clay relies on your sense of proprioception-knowing where your body is in space.  And are you enjoying the process?  Is it making you feel more well?  more alive?  Is it helping to define a tiny piece of who you are?  

Transformations in Clay

It may be a stretch to imagine all of our 12 senses being activated by working with clay, but it is a great example.  Kneading bread, digging in the mud, absorbed in nature, physical activity-they all involve many of our 12 senses.  

Sitting at the desk on your computer (guilty at the moment)... not so many senses being involved.  

Steiner's 12 Senses

The 12 Senses as I learned them this past weekend:  From vision/ sight, we move either into our inner or outer world.  Our outer world: warmth, hearing, words, thoughts, I.  Our inner world: taste, smell, touch, balance, proprioception/ self movement, life/ sense of well-being.  

For the youngest children, the largest emphasis in our school is on the 4 "lower" senses: touch, balance, proprioception, and life.  Development of these 4 senses will also help with the later development of the "upper" senses.  After age 7, the emphasis is on the (middle)  smell, taste, vision, and warmth, and the junior high years more on the (upper) hearing, words, thoughts, and I development.  

From what I took out of it, we need activities that correspond to the development of the child- so a kindergardener should be most concerned with digging in the garden, running in the park, and balancing on the log (I feel like a broken record).  We need to choose quality activities that help us to move through the relevant senses to help us complete the cycle.   

To throw another consideration in... In our development and health, we also need to look at both how do we fully ENGAGE (move ourselves from inner world to outer) in our environment and with other people-how do we fully use our body, use our limbs, connect with our environment, and connect with people.  And how to we SELF SOOTHE (move from outer world to inner)?  How do we quiet down and be comfortable in our body?  We need our energy to move between engagement and self soothing.

From a chiropractic perspective, having an optimal communication between our brain and body will allow the body to develop without interference, to allow the limbs and body to fully engage in our play and in our world.  Having the strategies to self-regulate our tension and stresses will allow us to return to our inner world with more peace and calm.  Our speaker touched on how many of us are moving to an autistic world because we are getting trapped in that cycle between engagement and soothing.  I believe reconnecting to our brain and body, and being aware of these natural cycles, helps us to move more naturally through our development.  

A short aside... The best example for self-soothing/ returning to inner world that I related to was the afternoon tea.  For those who enjoy their tea, you know it is a time that is reserved, that consists only of drinking tea or possibly eating treats, is usually a pretty strong routine or rhythm in the house, is probably a special, possibly delightful time, and is usually a quiet, relaxing, inner world time.  Since many of us are living "out there" engaged so fully, so often, it may be a way to return to that quiet time.  From my growing up in a house that did have a form of tea-time, I can say that I can now look at it as a dependable rhythm and appreciate how it slowed the household down.  

Our advise or take-aways from the weekend:
  1. Do Nothing.
  2. Do Nothing with another person. (Tea time!)
  3. Use our limbs and body in activity.  


  1. We became very familiar with proprioceptive responses with our youngest son when he was 5. He was experiencing a disconnect and we were guided towards working with clay, beads, and play-doh - all things that helped soothe him and help him focus.

  2. I miss the play-doh days! I think I'll cook up a batch and surprise my kids...never too old...

  3. 12 senses!! I find that most interesting! And tea time? I have tea time regularly and know some families that also have made tea time a part of their everyday routine. It is a great gift. Especially right after school! Great article :)

  4. I like the "Do nothing with anther person. Tea time!" Playing around in my garden in the soil stirs my senses.


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