Learning about the senses is important for young children and in kindergarten, and sense-of-touch activities are a great way to learn. These sensory activities give an opportunity to develop the sense of touch naturally in their environment. Being able to recognize different textures, shapes and temperatures is an important life skill and one that triggers certain receptors in the brain so the earlier we start learning about touch the better prepared our children will be for life.
Here are some of my favorite activities for developing a young child’s sense of touch. As with all activities, always check for allergies before you start, and then all you need to do is have fun:
1. Jell-O play / Jelly Play
Messy play is always fun with young children. If you can, use a large tray, but if you don’t have one of those, no need to worry. – You can use anything with a lip to stop the jelly from escaping or even a large plate, bowl, or baking dish. Put your jelly on a table or on the floor if you are working outside. Make a large amount of jello/jelly and allow it to set in the fridge overnight. I usually make three large bowls full before I pour it into the tray.
- Encourage the children to feel the texture of the jelly between their fingers and listen to what they say. Feed in new words to their play like: wobbly, squelchy, and wet.
- Add containers, funnels, jugs, spoons, and scoops to enhance the play and let the children experiment with the texture of the jelly.
- What do they like about the feel of it? What do they dislike? Can they build with it?
This is a lovely activity for developing new vocabulary as they talk about the texture and temperature of the jelly.
2. Shaving foam / Shaving Cream
Another lovely messy activity! Squirt a small amount of shaving foam onto a laminate table top or onto a large plastic tray and show the children how to spread it out with their hands until the surface is covered in a thick white coating. You can model how to write numbers or initial sounds if the children are ready for that.
- Talk about the feel of the shaving foam.
- Is it wet or dry, smooth or rough, cold or warm?
- Have fun making patterns in the foam and as it starts to disappear, talk about where the foam is going to?
- You may need to keep adding an extra squirt of foam as the children are playing in it.
3. Tactile writing
This is a lovely way to encourage reluctant writers to start to form initial sounds or numbers and it also allows the children to experience a variety of different textures too.
Fill several small individual plastic trays with any of the following:
- Icing sugar
- Dried lentils
- Dried rice
- Dry sand
- Hundreds and thousands.
You don’t have to use all of the above, and if you have anything in the cupboard with a similar feel, you can always make substitutes. Model to the children how to use your finger to write in the trays and ask the children to copy you. Talk about how each tray feels. Which is their favorite texture? Can they write their name in it?
This activity can get lovely and messy (so if you are a teacher you may need to explain to your parents why you are providing it so that they understand the value of it).
If you already have a digging area outdoors, fantastic! You can use it for all kinds of tactile experiences. If not, try to provide the children with a corner of ground outdoors where they can dig the earth to a decent depth. If you can’t provide outdoor digging, you could always provide some soil in a sand pit, but always it’s much better to provide an authentic experience firsthand if possible.
Feeling the texture of the soil as the children dig is a really important step for understanding our world and how it is composed. Consider our future architects, surveyors, builders, town planners, and visionaries. They all need an understanding of how the earth works. Digging allows children to feel the texture of the earth, its consistency, its weight, and its structure.
- Encourage the children to dig holes. You can bury items before they start digging if you want to add some excitement to this activity.
- You could also enhance the play by adding a water source.
- Talk about the texture of the soil. Is it cold or warm? Does it change in different weather? This activity can lead to all kinds of projects about under the ground.
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Gloop is cheap and cheerful but very effective for developing the sense of touch.
All you need to get started is:
- 2 scoops of cornstarch / cornflour / other type of flour
- Food coloring. (Any color).
Here are the steps:
- Provide a large tray or bowl and fill it with the cornflower, then pour a few drops of the food coloring into the center.
- Gradually add water, allowing the children to mix the substances together with their hands.
- The gloop with gradually mix together after a while into long stringy “gloopy” particles.
Most children love the feel of gloop and will be fascinated by the feel of it. It’s almost like magic.
Please do be aware that for some children who struggle with sensory processing, this can be more difficult, so you may need to start slowly and build up to this.
Talk to the children about the feel of the gloop. This can be a good starting point for generating new words such as:
I’ve used gloop to generate poems and stories – use your imagination and have lots of fun with it.
6. Nature walk
Nature walks went out of fashion for a while, but they are definitely back in vogue. It’s lovely to walk at different times of the year so the children can notice the changes that the seasons bring. There’s always something to talk about:
Autumn and Winter
- Feel the old bark on trees.
- Touch the soft moss growing on stones.
- Snap bare twigs underfoot to hear them crack.
- Feel dry and crinkly colorful leaves between your fingers.
- Squeeze seed pods to make them pop.
- Kick up a carpet of colorful leaves.
- Collect pine cones, acorns, and seedpods.
- Frosty spider webs or icicles.
- These experiences are all great for developing a child’s sense of touch. The gnarly texture of a large pine cone is endlessly fascinating. Talk to the children about the shapes they can see and the textures they can feel.
While on your nature walk, collect a wide variety of leaves:
-shiny tough evergreens
-dry autumn leaves
As many different kinds of leaves as you can find in fact and just let the children explore them.
Provide them with crayons and paper to make rubbings of the different textures.
As they explore the textures, talk about the veins running down the center, the colors, the feel.
Always check first for potential poisonous or hazardous plants.
8. The Beach.
If you are lucky enough to be able to travel to a beach with your children seize the opportunity as there is so much potential to develop our sense of touch here. The sand alone is a ginormous opportunity to develop the sense of touch.
- Take off your shoes and make footprints in the wet sand.
- Draw pictures with your fingers and toes in the dry sand.
- Collect shells and feel their ridges sort them into rough or smooth shells.
- Collect seaweed for an activity bursting with new vocabulary like shiny, slippery, squelchy, and popping.
- Feel the waves on your toes – the pull of the water, the feel of the sand retreating.
Even if you only visit once a year, there is enough opportunity to develop our sense of touch on a beach to last a lifetime!
9. A fabric investigation basket.
Investigation baskets are a great resource for kindergarten children. All you need is an attractive basket or box. Then, simply fill it with interesting resources and let the children explore it.
I use a fabric investigation box to develop the children’s sense of touch:
The basket includes:
- A piece of Real fur
- A ball of ultra-soft wool
- A denim pocket
- A sample of sheep wool / fleece
- A child’s silk kimono
- A fascinator made of gauze ribbons and feathers
- A feather boa
- A cloth shopping bag
- A piece of real leather
- A hot water bottle in a furry cover
Simply leave the box out for your children to explore and play alongside them, feeding in new ideas and words to deepen their understanding.
10. A wooden investigation box:
This is another variation of investigation baskets and is a lovely resource to deepen the children’s understanding of touch. You can interchange any of the objects in the list below if you have other interesting wooden objects. The idea here is to make an investigation basket that is interesting without spending a fortune, try these:
- Wooden spoons
- A wooden eggcup
- A pair of wooden clogs
- Wooden instruments like a block, scraper, or rhythm sticks
- Carved wood or figurines
- A piece of real bark
- A wooden egg
- Chunky wooden beads
- A piece of balsa wood
As in the activity above, leave the box out for the children to explore and play alongside them to introduce new words and ideas to help develop the words to explain textures.
11. Feely boxes.
Once the children have had the opportunity to explore lots of different resources through investigation baskets and boxes, you can move on to feely boxes, where the sense of sight is removed, and the children have to identify the resources through touch alone.
Feely boxes are easy to make and don’t have to be expensive.
Shoeboxes are a good size to start with or use a similar-sized box but make sure it has a lid.
Cut a hole in the top of the lid, just wide enough for a little hand to reach inside.
Place different objects in the box and have fun as the children try to guess what is inside.
You may need to ask them to close their eyes too, try things objects like:
- A hot water bottle in a furry case.
- An ice pack
- A pine cone
- A lemon squeezer
- An orange cut in half
- A pumpkin cut in half with seeds
- A colander
- A real sponge.
- A tub of jelly.
This is a great activity for developing confidence. It takes a lot of trust to put your hand in a box when you don’t know what is inside so be patient and make it into a game where you have lots of giggles together.
12. A real fish
I tried this activity once with some young children and it caused so much excitement and endless fascination that I’ve used it many times since.
I bought a real fish from my local fishmonger and brought it into the classroom. In my case, it was a large trout, but you could use any kind of fish that you can get hold of at a reasonable price.
I started the activity by encouraging the children to look closely at the fish. They used magnifying glasses to look at the eyes, fins, and scales and as they got braver, they started to feel the textures of the scales and fins with their hands. They were fascinated by the eyes and mouth and how the scales could move backward and forwards. Then we looked inside the fish at the skeleton.
None of the children I was working with had ever experienced a real fish before and they had endless questions.
They made sketches of the fish scale patterns and paintings of the fish. I left it out for them to explore if they wanted to – there was a lot of interest and by the end of the day, most children had plucked up the courage to touch the fish themselves.
This was a real and authentic experience and it generated lots of learning about the natural world, lots of new words, and a much deeper understanding than if we had simply looked at pictures of a fish. If you have the opportunity, I really recommend trying this.
There is nothing quite like the feel of a live animal to young children and if you are able to let your children experience this, it can create memorable moments. There are companies that visit schools and Kindergartens with animals such as hamsters, rabbits, and guinea pigs to pet, but if you can’t afford to book something like that, why not hold a pet day?
Stroking a real animal is unlike anything we can reproduce with toys. It also encourages the children to be calm and gentle and to learn how to care.
Why not ask your parents to bring in a pet for a talk about pet care and let each child have a cuddle if they want to. Obviously, you would need to check that the pet is safe first and have a risk assessment in place.
I visited a Nursery recently and they had a pair of ducks called Jemima and Horace who were visiting for the day, the children were having a lovely time in the outdoor area, stoking and feeding the ducks.
Developing a good vocabulary to be able to talk about the sense of touch is important. This is a great activity to start to develop lots of sensory new words with young children.
Ask the children to sit in front of a mirror and have a good look at themselves. Having a mirror is a good resource in a kindergarten as it encourages the children to start developing a sense of themselves. You could ask the children to draw or paint themselves, and as they do, stop and feel the texture of their hair, their skin, eyebrows and teeth.
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In all of the above activities, the children will be gaining rich real-life experiences and will have opportunities for sensory processing to take place. The more authentic and richer the learning experiences, the more language will start to develop but in all of the above activities, the most important element, as always, is to have fun.