The Princess and the Pea

Do you remember the story of The Princess and the Pea?  The princess is so sensitive that she cannot sleep when there is a pea placed under a large pile of mattresses.  This helps explain the word liminal: of or relating to a sensory threshold.

Imagine that tag in the t-shirt that scratches you or the incessant sound of the dripping tap that drives you to frustration. 

Sensory thresholds are different for each individual and for me, it is important to keep in mind that the young children I work with every day are experiencing the world in different ways.  I find it so fascinating that one child can be so incredibly sensitive to sound or light or the feeling of wet skin while others will hardly notice these things.  There is the child who can be completely soaked and continue to play in the puddle without a care and the child who cries when the slightest drop of water touches his skin.  Many children in the class may enjoy a game with lots of clapping and jumping and yet for some children it is simply sensory overload.  Picture the child who covers her ears, runs to the corner and hides when the room gets a little noisy.  As a teacher, I am becoming better at understanding that each child is perceiving the world differently and these thresholds are keys to success or added challenge for some children.  Understanding this means that I can look for ways to accommodate for individual differences.

It impacts people at the opposite end of life too.  I’ve recently learned that people with dementia have responded favourably to additional sensory input.  So by adding extra lights, music, scents, or items to touch and feel to the environment these people are able to become more responsive to family members whom they may not have otherwise recognized. I highly recommend watching this video about how people with dementia can be reached through providing more sensory input.

Do you have some senses that are stronger than others?  Are you bothered by loud noises?  Pungent smells?  Are you like the princess who can feel the pea underneath a stack of mattresses?

In my mind, understanding sensory input is one of the keys to understanding people.  Give some thought to the people in your life. Maybe you know someone who experiences life more intensely.  Perhaps their sensory thresholds are different from yours. Give them the gift of understanding.  The pea may be small but it is enough to keep that princess awake night after night.  And without that night of good solid sleep… watch out!


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