The Human Senses: A Fun Little Tour

The Human Senses: A Fun Little Tour


Letter 4

Why Do We Hear, See, Smell, Taste and Feel Things?

Remember wiggling your fingers yesterday, dear Julian?

How did it feel

Those weird fleshy sticks sprouting from your hands may not look terribly useful at first. Good for wiggling? Yes. Good for anything else? Not really sure (and really can’t see how). 

But then you discover you can scratch the places on your skin that itch.  You can pick your nose, and poke your gums (that part inside your mouth which your teeth are attached to). You can use your fingers to explore your whole body!

(Just…don’t do this when people are around. It’s not always polite.)

As you move your fingers around, you’ll notice you can feel things at the end of those fingers. Your face is smooth – and your dad’s face is rough and scratchy. The ends of your teeth feel smooth – but hard. Other things feel differently.

Welcome to one of your five senses! It’s called touch.

Your hands are your best friends. They will help you crawl, and when you can stand, they’ll help you get to your feet. They help you hold onto things, move things around, press buttons, pull levers, turn wheels, and a million other things that humans do every day. Hands are explorers. They’re how we understand the world, by touching and feeling it.

But as you grow up, you’ll find that your hands mean so much more. You use them to hold hands with others, and to reach out and hug, until your arms are long enough and your hugs go all the way around other people. 

A hug is one of the deepest and most meaningful expressions of love towards another human being – even when that person is a stranger. Each time you feel the need or desire to give a hug, dear Julian, please do. Never ever stop yourself from hugging when you feel it. Never be afraid of hugging. Some people will give it back, others might not – but you can always be the first to offer that hug. Always be first. That feeling is there for a reason – and it will always be a good one.

So, that’s touch.

We have four more senses to explore. Are you ready?

Lift your fingers to your ears (those two funny squishy cups that are fixed to either side of your head) and feel them. Feel how wonderfully soft and squishy they are. And as you do so – listen to the noise your fingers are making. It’s a trick. They’re not really making that loud a noise. It’s just that your fingers are so close to your ears, and your ears are how you hear – which is the second of your five senses.

It is because of your hearing that you are able to listen to your mum’s stories every night, or your dad’s singing as he drives to work every day. It is thanks to your ears that you will slowly become aware of the world around you, noticing when people call your name (“Julian! Look who’s here! Auntie!!”) or when you need to be careful about something, like an approaching car. They serve as protectors because they allow us be warned, making us safe when necessary – and the same is true of all your senses.

Open your mouth for a second. Now close it again. Can you feel your teeth – the hard little white structures inside your mouth, so strangely different to the rest of your face? At age one, like you are right now, you are not fully aware of those teeth – but you already have eight of them! And by the time you’re fully grown, you will have a total of 32 of them (you don’t have to do anything – they’ll just grow on their own). It is thanks to your teeth that you can chew, which allows you to try more kinds of food, even harder, tougher things like meat.

Teeth help with the third of your senses, called taste. When food goes in your mouth, teeth help break it into tiny pieces – and those pieces release flavour. Flavour is what makes things delicious (and other things yucky and horrible too). It’s actually so much fun.

Then we have the eyes, the tiny coloured circles set on a white background in the front of our faces, that we can see when we look in a mirror. Eyes are how we see eyes! They’re what we use to see  – the fourth of our five senses – and to recognise the world in front of us. Through our  eyes, we can see colour, sunshine, darkness, shapes and familiar faces. When you see your mum and dad approaching and feel happy, you can thank your eyes.

The eyes keep us surrounded by our loved ones too, because thanks to their ability to recognise faces, we can tell when we’re in company of family and friends. Eyes keep us safe, by avoiding things we’d fall over if we couldn’t see them. Without your eyes, you’d find it so much harder to learn to walk. They can tell you about depth and distance, so that when a stair comes, your brain knows you must place one foot down on exactly the correct place – otherwise you’d fall over. 

(Falling over is painful and annoying, but we all do it, even when we’re adults. Nothing to worry about. And to be honest, sometimes results in funny moments we all laugh about. I still don’t know why this happens but I just know we’re all guilty for it!)

The last of our amazing senses can be found in the nose – that pointy thing at the front of our faces, the thing we use to breathe through when our mouth is closed. Noses are usually the first thing you notice about other people, because they’re right there, sticking out of their faces. It’s just too funny and pointy to miss! 

The nose is in charge of processing smells too. Smell works with taste to help us enjoy food (try pinching your nose and tasting something – you’ll find most of the flavour in your mouth disappears). It’s also how we discover aromas in the air, like the scent of spring flowers. As I mentioned above, the nose has one of the most essential functions: breathing. Through the nose, the air you breathe is cleaned and warmed up, so when you take it deep into your body, it’s in a perfect state for your lungs, where air is turned into oxygen, a substance our body needs to stay alive.  Amazing, right? 

Ah, dear Julian. I remember those times when I’d listen to your dad snoring from across the hallway in his room so loud. Sometimes noses can make incredible noises – like when you sneeze: “AAAAAAATSSHOOO!”. (I wonder if the word “noise” comes from “nose”?) 

(In your daddy’s case, his snore-noises happened because he broke his nose while exercising one day. That must have hurt! But as I said in an earlier letter, doctors can fix almost anything these days, and noses are easy. Just a few weeks before your birth, your dad went into surgery to get his nose fixed – and he hasn’t snored as much since.)

Our whirlwind tour of the five senses is complete!

Now – I challenge you, right now, my dear Julian, to use all of them as fast as you can! Ready?

Touch something.

Now smell something.

Now feel something.

Now taste something. 

Now listen to something!

And – rest. You’ve earned it, my boy.

This is a blog series after my book called Dear Julian: Welcome Letters To The World. Feel free to follow the series here or buy the Kindle version on Amazon. Thanks for your support!

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