But if you ask a young child what they want to be when they grow up you’ll often hear “fireman,” “ballerina” or “doctor,” ideas that come from toys, stories or the very same answers they’ve heard before, handed down through generations. What you probably won’t hear is “landscape architect,” “pastry chef” or “zoologist.” Concrete ideas like this come later on, from close observation of the adult world and by gaining experience with the senses.
A great deal of daily life revolves around sensory information. It’s where we find deep satisfactions. Restaurants appeal to us through taste, texture and color. Sports entice us with expertise in movement and rhythm. The tourist industry provides new sensory experiences we value highly. Architects explore the elements of space and light to provide us with homes, offices and public places that attract us. And then there’s the music industry, all about sound and rhythm. And the fashion industry that continues to fascinate us with new lines, colors, textures and shapes.
So much of our economy runs on professions involved with sensory data, sensory thinking and sensory expertise. It’s time we take the education of the senses seriously. It begins with the basic building blocks—the sensory alphabet. This is the foundation for many other sensory thinking skills. For instance, it’s useful to remember that all the expertise and artfulness of the great writers began by learning their ABC’s as children. Young Einstein needed to learn his numbers first to have his big ideas.
And at the most elemental level, it all begins with awareness. As researchers and educators, we know that the vocabulary you use shapes what you pay attention to. The photos at the left show what those beginnings look like. They are five year olds learning the sensory alphabet—by noticing, collecting, playing and sharing. This is the doorway to enlarging the sensory capacities, finding favorites and building thinking skills. Along the way, all children can discover their own brand of curiosities and passions to grow on.