My Sensations Sweet

My Sensations Sweet

I cannot tell you how often the aroma of freshly baked bread, or the smell of rice cooking, or the scent of wet grass transports me to my childhood, almost as immediately as I close my eyes and take a deep breath of those “sensations sweet.” When I listen to certain songs I am reminded of special people in my life. The taste of certain foods also triggers memories of family gatherings and other occasions like one of my favorites: lemon popsicles at the beach. I also carry with me a “picture-gallery” of lovely images I have collected from my youth, paintings from the time I spent at my grandparent’s house in the countryside or at the beach during summer vacations.

Little did I know how important these sensations sweet are for the education of a child, until I came across chapters 17 and 18 from Parents and Children. Mason presents us with a puzzling idea, derived not only from common sense but with scientific evidence, that we parents must endeavor to educate our children’s senses. And this is why:

Most people suppose that the sensations, feelings, and emotions of a child are matters that take care of themselves. Indeed, we are apt to use the three terms indiscriminately, without attaching very clear ideas to them. But they cover, collectively, a very important educational field; and though common-sense, that is to say, judgments formed upon inherited knowledge, often helps us to act wisely without knowing why, we shall probably act more wisely if we act reasonably. (pp. 178-179)

Now, the senses are the Five Gateways of Knowledge, to quote the title of a little book which many of us have used in early days; and an intelligent person should be aware of, and capable of forming judgments upon, the sensations he receives. (p. 179)

My parents didn’t know of Charlotte Mason when they were raising me during the 1980s in Brazil. However, through common sense, they provided plenty of opportunities for my siblings and I to explore the environment around us through our five senses and the result of this is that we all treasure memories triggered by certain smells, images, or sounds.

As a busy mom of two rambunctious boys, I knew I wanted to provide as many opportunities as possible for the development of their senses. I also knew that a systematic way of doing this would not be the right approach since I can’t force feed them with images, sounds or smells of memories I want them to retain for their adulthood. But I can take Miss Mason’s advice to work “by the way” the education of the senses in the atmosphere of my home, the training of certain habits, and the presentation of engaging ideas.

So how can a parent implement all the genius ideas presented by Miss Mason about the education of the senses? And why should we spend time pursuing it?

Before I share how I have done that in my home, I would like to consider some thoughts for guidance and encouragement. If you haven’t met the “pages of the body” introduced by Mason in Book I of Ourselves, I highly recommend you start with that chapter. It’s a delightful description of how the five senses can help us as good servants or hinder us when they become our masters. Next, let’s take a look into how the five senses operate in our bodies:

The sensations have their origin in impressions received by the several organs of sense—eye, tongue, nostrils, ear, and the surface of the external skin—and are conveyed by the sensory nerves, some to the spinal cord and some to the lower region of the brain. Many sensations we know nothing about; when we become aware of our sensations, it is because communications are sent by nerve fibres, acting as telegraph wires, from the sensorium to the thinking brain; and this happens when we give our attention to any one of the multitudinous messages carried by the sensory nerves. (p. 179)

In Parents and Children, Mason uses a poem by Wordsworth that exemplifies how the information (impression) taken in by our senses in a given time of our lives can trigger sweet memories at a later time. You can find the poem here and her explanation is this:

… we may have, so to speak, reflected sensations, as well as those that are immediate; because a conscious sensation depends upon the recognition of an impression in the sensory centres, and this recognition may be evoked, not only by an immediate sensation, but by an association which recalls the image once permanently impressed by the original sensation. Wordsworth is exquisitely right when he speaks of the repeated enjoyment of sensations sweet. ‘In lonely rooms and ’mid the din of towns and cities,’ some sudden touch of the chords of association has brought to him the soothing joy of a picture—‘Forms’ with every grace of symmetry, harmony, venerable antiquity, in the ever fresh and gracious setting of a beautiful landscape. The eye of his mind is infinitely gladdened; the ear of his mind, no longer conscious of the din of cities, hears the chord struck by the Wye in its flow, and the notes of the birds and the lowing of the cattle and the acuter notes of the insect world. Again he perceives the odour of the meadowsweet, he touches the coolness of the grass; and all these are as absolutely sensations as when they were for the first time conveyed to his consciousness by the sensory organs. (p. 192)

Another great outcome of the education of the senses is the physical well-being and mental restoration it can provide. Many days when I face a challenge that takes me to a grumpy or gloomy mood, I can retrieve from my private “picture-gallery” sweet images from my childhood to offer a change of thought. When I cook rice, the smell of it brings memories from my grandma’s home. When I go to the seashore, I can almost taste those lemon popsicles I enjoyed in my childhood. All that fills me with joy and it restores my weary mind. Still referring to Wordsworth’s poem mentioned above, Mason goes on to say:

… the poet goes on to tell us that these sensations sweet are ‘felt in the blood and felt along the heart,’ a statement curiously true to fact; for a pleasurable sensation causes the relaxation of the infinitesimal nerve fibres netted around the capillaries; the blood flows freely, the heart beats quicker, the sense of well-being is increased; gaiety, gladness, supervene; and the gloom of the dull day, and the din of the busy city, exist for us no more; that is to say, memories of delight are, as it were, an elixir of life, capable, when they present themselves, of restoring us at any moment to a condition of physical well-being.

But even this is not the whole. Wordsworth speaks of these memories as ‘passing into my purer mind with tranquil restoration’—purer, because less corporeal, less affected by physical conditions, but all the same so intimately related to the physical brain, that the condition of the one must rule the other. Mind and brain, perhaps, have been alike fagged by the insistent recurrence of some one line of thought; when, suddenly, there flashes into the ‘purer mind’ the cognition of images of delight, presented in consequence of a touch to some spring of association: the current of thought is diverted into new and delightful channels; and weariness and brain fag give place to ‘tranquil restoration.’

If mere sensations are capable of doing so much for our happiness, our mental refreshment, and our physical well-being, both at the time of their reception and for an indefinite number of times afterwards, it follows that it is no small part of our work as educators to preserve the acuteness of the children’s perceptions, and to store their memories with images of delight. (pp. 193-194)

As I have pondered on those ideas, I was able to better grasp practical ways to “preserve the acuteness” of my sons’ perceptions and to cultivate “memories with images of delight.”

I’ve also learned the value of these practices in helping my children to discern odors that can be harmful or sounds such as cars that we can’t see but hear coming down the road.

But how can we put all these great ideas into work?

Our constant care must be to secure that they do look, and listen, touch, and smell; and the way to this is by sympathetic action on our part: what we look at they will look at; the odours we perceive, they, too, will get. (pp. 192-193)

It requires intentionality on my part. A little effort in remembering to put into action an object lesson when we go on a nature walk or to remember to use games as bird stalking and picture-painting  as Mason describes in the chapters of “Out-of-Door Life for the Children” in Home Education. Mason has much to say on how we can train the senses in her volumes, especially in Volumes 1, 2 and 4, and I would like to share some practical ways I have incorporated them in my home:


  • The children are welcome to cook with my husband and I and we play games such as “smell the ingredients.” When they were toddlers, they liked to take the little jars of condiments and spices to learn their smells. Oregano and cinnamon are amongst their favorites.
  • When we go on a nature walk, I encourage them to take a deep breath and try to discern the smells of that place.
  • We all enjoy the scent of the wet grass and earth when it rains.
  • Since they were little, we smelled the flowers in our garden.


  • In our family we encourage each other to try new foods even if we think we might not like it.
  • With their eyes closed, my sons have to describe a food by its taste. This is a fun game to play with friends.
  • My husband and I try to make favorite meals as part of our family tradition like Saturday morning pancakes, beans from our Brazilian heritage and pasta from our Italian heritage.


  • Since babyhood, I’ve exposed them to different textures, letting them touch natural objects such as grass, leaves, pebbles, etc.
  • A game to play occasionally during meals is to discern texture of the food or to compare how heavy a slice of bread is to a slice of cheese, for example.
  • I knew I wanted my kids to enjoy getting their hands dirty so they got used to working on dirt and water as we prepare our vegetable garden. They also enjoy getting their hands (and most of their bodies) dirty making mud pies and sandcastles.


  • My husband is a singer by hobby so singing to our babies was something that happened naturally in our home. We enjoy the delight of music as a family and now that my sons are in their tween years, they sing, play, and enjoy music.
  • When we go to a nature walk, we play games such as bird stalking and carefully listen to our surroundings, counting how many different sounds we can discern.


  • We enjoy doing “sight-seeing” and “picture-painting” as Mason described in Home Education.
  • Object lessons are very helpful in bringing a child’s attention to really see something specific like the colors of a bird or the body parts of an ant.

There are many more things to add to this list and I encourage you to pick one to start and before you know it you’ll be doing more and more for the education of your own senses. After a math lesson where the child has learned about measurements, you can ask her to judge distances, height and how heavy common objects around the house are. My sons really enjoy these types of games, and you can find more ideas in Parents and Children, Chapter 17.

My last thought is a reminder that we parents are inspirers of ideas, as we point our children’s eyes to a beautiful scene in nature, their ears to a lovely tune, their nostrils to perceive the aroma of the flowers, their hands to hold a shell for closer examination, we are bringing their attention to a beautiful thought of God and storing the eye of their minds with infinite gladness.

Mariana Mastracchio is married to Giovanni and mother to Eric and Luca, two adventurous boys full of living ideas. She’s originally from Southern Brazil and has adopted suburban NY as her home. On her homeschooling journey, Mariana found a great friend in Charlotte Mason. This friendship has yielded precious fruit not only in her homeschool, but in the atmosphere of her home and life.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *