Monday, November 21, 2022

50 Pounds Of Flax Seed

A single flax seed is a tiny golden fleck, so small that a single one is hardly noticeable to the human eye, so insubstantial that its fragrance is undetectable, so meager that one can barely feel it with a fingertip, so delicate that a single one on the tongue barely registers, so light that we don't hear when it falls onto the floor.

But if you fill a sensory table with 50 pounds of flax seed, you've created something irresistible to human senses. The earthy smell overwhelms the room. It's almost impossible to resist plunging your hand into them, feeling the silkiness as they slide across one another, almost like a liquid, but surprisingly crisp and dry. As you stir those seeds with your palms you become aware of a the shh shh sound they make as they interact with and against one another. When you pull your hands away, you notice that the seed oils remain, softening your skin and now they too smell of flax. And when you put a pinch of them on your tongue, you can finally taste their light nuttiness.

Some, both children and adults, find the experience of 50 pounds of flax seed in a sensory table so enveloping that they will remain there for an hour or more, swirling, scooping, and plunging their body parts into it. 

I know there are some who will be appalled by the "waste" of food that 50 pounds of flax seed in a sensory table represents. And while flax is consumed as a food, it is also used by humans to make fabric like damasks, lace, and bed sheets. It is used to make twine and rope. Some nations print their currency on paper made from flax. The oil, sometimes called linseed oil, is used in a wide variety of products, from nutritional supplements to wood-finishing products. There is literally no end to the gifts that flax and flax seeds offer to humans and I suspect we are not done receiving those gifts.

All learning starts as a sensory experience. Playing with flax seed, or anything, is how we begin to understand and appreciate it. The lessons we learn may not lead to new innovations or inventions, but the act of allowing the world to enter us through our senses, to process those sensations, to make connections between other sensations both past and in the future is where learning begins. Even dry lectures must enter our bodies through our ears and eyes. 

Neuroscientist Malcom MacIver believes that when fish began to adapt to life on land some 400 million years ago, they found themselves in a place where they could see over vast distances compared to life in water. This sensory discovery, he says, spurred the evolution of the ability to be proactive, to think ahead, to plan instead of simply react. As their environment expanded, so did their minds. This is what happens when we play with our world with our senses: it expands our minds.

There was never a superpowered Homo sapiens who encountered flax then sat down and noodled out all the things it could be used for: no the history of the relationship between flax and humans is one of playing together. Humans learned to make paper and fabric and food with flax by playing with it, which is to say exploring it with all of our senses, letting it enter into our bodies where our minds could begin guiding the process of experimenting, testing, inventing, and expanding our environment. Both humans and flax have thrived through playing together. And there are some, like historian Yuval Noah Harari, who assert that grains like flax domesticated us rather than the other way around.

When we plunge our hands into 50 pounds of flax seed, we are filling ourselves through our senses. We are activating our curiosity and playfulness. All learning starts with a sensory experience.


"I recommend these books to everyone concerned with children and the future of humanity." ~Peter Gray, Ph.D. If you want to see what Dr. Gray is talking about you can find Teacher Tom's First Book and Teacher Tom's Second Book right here

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