Beyond the five senses: Body awareness

There are many more senses to explore, such as the sense of body awareness.

In elementary school, you were probably taught about five senses: sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. In reality, we can observe many other things beyond those five senses. Using all of our senses allows us to better understand the world around us and use those observations to make scientific predictions.

Close your eyes for a moment. Without seeing yourself, do you know where the ends of your fingers are? Or the tip of your nose? How do you know this? What sense is it? The word for being able to sense where your own body is located is called proprioception. This sense is very helpful for being able to touch-type on a keyboard, eat food out of a bowl while watching TV or turn on a light switch in the dark.

With young children, lack of awareness of their own body can sometimes lead to conflict. As children are rushing to head to recess, they might accidentally knock each other over. The child on the ground might say, “He pushed me!” In reality, the offending child probably did not have an awareness of what space his body was taking up.

Here are some activities to try to demonstrate and understand proprioception:

  1. Have students close their eyes and touch the tip of their nose with their finger. Repeat this with other body parts. How do you know where they are when you can’t see them?
  2. Have children close their eyes and try to touch the tip of each finger with the corresponding fingertip on the other hand, and go through all the fingers.
  3. Write a word or draw a shape with your eyes open. Write the same word or draw a shape with your eyes shut. Do the words look different? Why or why not?
  4. Put an “X” on a piece of paper with a crayon. Close your eyes and hold a different colored crayon, and try to put an “X” in the exact same spot. Could you do it?
  5. Set up a limbo-stick. Ask children to go under it while blindfolded and go as close to the stick as they can without touching it. Video the results and show it back to the children and ask questions.
  6. Break the children into pairs. Put them in chairs one in front of the other. Have the child in the rear chair put on a blindfold. Then, have the blindfolded child gently rub their own nose and the nose of the child in front of them. After a while, the child should feel like their nose is growing. Why does this happen?
  7. Have the children raise one arm in the air above their heads so they can’t see it. Have them touch the pointer finger on their other hand to the tip of their nose for about 10 seconds. Then, have them try to touch the thumb of their raised hand with the fingertip that was touching their nose. Can they do it?
  8. Rubber hand illusion – Have a fake rubber hand, or even a puppet hand, and place it next to a child. Have their actually hand hidden behind a screen, curtain or other barrier. Touch both hands on the same location in the same way. After a minute of doing this, stop touching the real hand and only touch the fake hand. Could they still “feel” it? How does this work?

Enjoy these activities and explore your senses beyond the typical five.

Michigan State University Extension encourages families, daycares, school activities, 4-H clubs or any group working with young children to conduct these experiments. The focus of these lessons aren’t to simply impart knowledge, but to facilitate the joy of discovery and the exploration of the world around us. This is not designed to “give youth the answers,” but to empower them to ask questions and figure things out on their own. When a young person asks a question, resist the urge to answer it, and instead ask, “What do you think?”

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