in sensory awareness


The children in these pictures engage with aliveness, curiosity and freedom. They are connected to each other, to the support underneath them, to the natural forces of gravity and energy. They are fully themselves without constriction or hindrance. A core element of the practice of Sensory Awareness is exploring what happens to adults: how we lose our own innate responsiveness and how we can rediscover it. The more we are able to do this, the more we are able to truly protect and nurture children.

Children As Our Teachers

We are all born with natural vitality and an innate connection to our senses. Children remain free in this connection until experiences or people teach them to function differently. So much of the practice of Sensory Awareness is focused on regaining the natural capacity we were all born with. If we can raise children to follow their own true experience and sensations, we can prevent a great deal of suffering.

Child playing

This photo of a child from the Pickler Institute demonstrates the vitality and aliveness with which we are all born. Emmi Pikler and Elfriede Hengstenberg are two pioneers in this work with children and their work continues to be a guide for many educators today. For more information about Emmi Pikler and the work that continues, visit

Mary Alice Roche describes some of their experiences in her article, "Sensory Awareness Conscious Relationship", Somatics Magazine-Journal Fall 2000:

ā€œHengstenberg was interested in the development of a child as a whole. She writes that when she began teaching, she and the parents thought that physical training by itself "could awaken in the children their vitality and total involvement". They both assumed that "Gymnastik" could enliven the passive child and bring overactive, disruptive children to be more peaceful. In class the children did feel joy and interest, and their posture changed, but afterward not much of that remained.

"It is rather the indication of an unfavorable inner attitude - the expression of a disturbed way of being that is both physical and psychic... The question was: "how can I create a more understandable connection for the children between that which they practice in my classes and that which they need for an uninhibited unfolding in daily life?" (Hengstenberg, 1985, p.9).

Two babies sitting

She found the answer when she began to work with Elsa Gindler and Heinrich Jacoby, and was able to see the children more perceptively: "tracing the inner, natural law of undisturbed development... the way which is prescribed by the Nature of the child" (Hengstenberg, 1985, p.10).

I saw those with unhindered, natural unfolding, and those whose development had been hindered by family, school, society. I discovered how, through clearly seeing the former in all their movements and ways of being in the world, I could find wherein the latter might unfold, fulfilling their potential. I found that adults, even with their more deeply seated hindrances, could change through the same kind of work, and that, particularly in the cases of parents and teachers, such change in them was a necessity for the healthy unfolding of the children in their care (Hengstenberg, 1985, p.10).

Heinrich Jacoby (cf. Roche, 1981) felt that "the liberation of the child must begin with the liberation of the adults; that this liberation is firstly a problem of educating the educators, and only secondly a problem of educating the children... Teachers often lead children toward the same inhibitions, disorders, and discouragements as those with which they, the teachers, are already afflicted (Jacoby, cf. Roche, 1981, p.24).

Emmi Pikler (1994) started at the very beginning of life, with newborns and infants. She writes of the joy and satisfaction that can happen - for both children and caretakers - when children's development is allowed to happen naturally, when they are not hindered by the adult's preconceptions about "child-rearing" - and the adult's unfulfilled emotional needs. In her book, Peaceful Babies, Contented Mothers, Pikler writes in detail about the physical, mental and emotional development of infants, their relationship to their caretakers, and to the world around them. She explains her philosophy of loving care and independent play, and illustrates just what those words mean, the actual attitude and behavior for which they stand within this life situation. In conclusion, Pikler (1994) says, "What is essential is to observe! Get to know your child. If you really... feel what she needs, then you will respond in the right way" (Pikler, 1994, p. 24).

Through observing children, we can rediscover more of our own innate responsiveness and aliveness.

About Sensory Awareness     History     Charlotte Selver     Children As Our Teachers     Benefits