In an increasingly screen-based world, children are at risk of exploring the world the world through the sense of touch less. This is having a negative effect on their overall development, often leading to developmental delays and the need for therapy to get them back on track.

Children experience the sense of touch through the skin which is the largest sensory system in the body. They feel through their skins what they have seen with their eyes, heard with their ears, tasted with their mouths and smelled with their noses. It is how children make sense of their world, creating meaning and understanding.

Sensopathic play using the sense of touch is a very real, concrete and experiential way to learn through personal experience.  There this famous quote from Einstein that rings so true for early learning in childhood:

“Learning is experience. Everything else is just information.”

Phases of learning

Children learn in three phases and it is important that they go through all these phases and don’t skip them out, otherwise there may well be gaps in their learning and understanding.

  • Concrete: a tactile experience of the real thing such as an apple, a cup, a building block, a puzzle piece, a cat
  • Semi-concrete:  the picture of an object on a page or a screen
  • Abstract:  A symbol, letter or number, words

What is standing in the way of tactile learning?

  • Too much time on screens instead of interacting and discovering the real world
  • Replacing real toys and games with screen-based games
  • Children are not making fun out of nothing in nature with sticks, stones, mud, leaves and water
  • Children are rushed so they are not allowed to spend too much time in the bath or playing with their food when they are little
  • We keep children clean so we don’t let them play with their food and mouth objects when they are little
  • We keep our houses tidy so we don’t encourage play with things like dough, finger paints etc
  • We have less time to do boisterous physical play with our children preferring them to entertain themselves on a screen
  • Sensory defensive or sensory seeking children

The results of less touch and tactile learning

  • Children who are less curious about their world and may even be scared of it
  • Children who are not getting the necessary information to udnerstand their phyyscial world such as:
    • Texture
    • Temperature
    • Weight
    • Shape
    • Size
  • More children in therapy
  • Poorer fine motor co-ordination – a skill that is often refined through activities than involve touch
  • Children feel less emotionally safe and secure due to lack of physical touch from parents and peers

How can parents stimulate the sense of touch at home?

  • Bath with your children and draw on their backs with soap
  • Use bubble bath in the bath
  • Allow children to draw on large patio doors/windows in shaving cream
  • Make jelly together, it changes state three times from dry powder to liquid and then to a gel
  • Let children draw on their own bodies with a ballpoint pen – down their arms to their fingers and down their legs to their toes – they are mapping where their bodies begin and end
  • Hide a few small objects in a bowl of dried lentils or sugar beans – when moving the hands through the dry ingredients it is very calming and therapeutic, and discovering the objects provides lots of input to the brain
  • Let children draw with their fingers on a tray on which you have sprinkled mielie meal
  • Wrap a little surprise in paper with sticky tape. Blindfold your child and ask them to unwrap the parcel. It’s a very different experience for them.
  • Allow children to play with dough, paints and finger paints
  • Invite your children to cook and bake with you
  • Place a variety of different food items in a bowl such as grapes, raisins, rice crispies. Blindfold your child and ask them to find specific items.

Toys and games that stimulate the sense of touch

  • Dolls – they are great for role playing nurturing, rocking, stroking etc
  • Plush toys such as teddy bears – these are cuddly, fluffy and soft and are a useful bridge to independence, from dummy to teddy, from teddy to grade R
  • Playdough – push, pull, create
  • Moonsand – different textures of rough and smooth
  • Bunchems – putting things together and pulling them apart and provides an interesting tactile experience
  • Zoob – a click together construction set that provides strong sensory feedback through the sense of tocuh and proprioception

Every child needs the opportunity to experience the world in a very real sense through the sense of touch.  Ignore sensopathic play and your child will not learn as effectively as when they are fully, physically engaged in their own learning, creating meaningful experiences.

You can book Nikki to present a sensopathic/messy play workshop for your group on