Tactile sensory play is exploring through touch.
The skin contains many sensors that provide information about light touch, deep pressure touch, temperature, and pain. Nerves under the skin receive sensory input and send signals to the brain through the central nervous system. Dr. Montessori observed that young children made greater developmental jumps when they had an environment that provided a variety of tactile exploration. She concluded that the connection between the hand and the brain is one that fosters a desire to learn.
In some people, the messages sent from the skin receptors to the brain are not received or processed correctly. This is referred to generally as a Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). A tactile sensory processing disorder occurs when someone is hyper(over) or hypo(under) sensitive to one or more type of tactile input. For those with SPD, a light touch or cold water can be interpreted as an extreme irritation or even pain. SPD can also present as under sensitive to touch, where an individual craves tactile sensory input.
Tactile learners are able to focus best and retain information when material is presented with a hands-on exploratory component. Most little kids seem to be very tactile oriented, wanting to touch and manipulate everything in their environment. For this reason, tactile sensory play is the most common and easiest to implement in our house.
Tactile Sensory Play For Babies
I started sensory play with my boys by introducing treasure baskets to explore around 6 months old.
Our treasure baskets contain a variety of objects to provide a wide range of tactile input. Each boy went through different favorites, and Magoo is the one who has held onto the desire for tactile play the most.
Exploring Temperature Through Messy Play
Temperature differences are among the first tactile activities that my boys have taken an interest in. I do emphasize hot when teaching my boys to stay back from the oven in the kitchen or when they want to drink my hot coffee in the mornings. Hot was one of Magoo’s first words and he is extremely picky about the temperature of things, preferring most things to be warm.
I try to incorporate messy play into our school unit, especially in the warm months when we can take the mess outside! Every summer I freeze toys in a block of ice and let they boys excavate using hot water. They will also ask for ice to play with in our backyard baby pool.
Tactile Play is All Around Us
As I went through photos to pull out examples of tactile play, I found that the most memorable moments are real life experiences and not prepared activities.
My boys LOVE to dig in the dirt. Every time they get anywhere near a sandbox or dirt pile, all three jump in and start digging. It doesn’t take long before one, usually Magoo, dumps dirt on his head and wiggles his toes in the mud.
We recently added a “rock box” in the backyard. I really didn’t want sand in part due to the mess it always makes and in part because of how it attracts neighborhood cats. We filled our sandbox with gravel instead. The boys cannot get enough of it! They all take off socks immediately and wiggle their toes in the gravel.
We are lucky to live a short drive from a beach. When the weather is nice, we go and play in the sand and surf. The boys can dig or splash in the water. When its time to go home, the mess stays behind!
Tactile Lovers and Haters
In preparing for this post, I realized that I have one tactile lover and one tactile hater. Magoo cannot get enough tactile sensory play. He has to touch EVERYTHING. At 3 he still puts just about everything in his mouth. When I create tactile learning activities, he is memorized for very long periods. Bebop on the other hand has some definite tactile aversions. He doesn’t like to have his hair cut or his nails trimmed. When I put out a sensory bin, Bebop will play for a few minutes, but not anywhere near the excitement of his two little brothers. Moving forward I will incorporate a lot of tactile sensory play for my two little boys. Bebop is welcome to join, but I expect he will be interested in other things.
What’s your favorite tactile sensory play?