When children are young, it’s essential for them to explore their sense of touch. A child’s touchis the first sense to develop in the womb, and it is the primary way infants learn to bond with their parents. (Did you know that a parent’s gentle touch on a child’s hand can reduce his heart rate and lower blood pressure?) Touch continues to play an important role, both in the early development of physical and communication skills and also in a child’s ability to participate in physical activities.
Sensory Activities for Infants and Toddlers
Activities that incorporate a child’s touchand movement are beneficial because they learn by feeling different objects, especially children who are kinesthetic learners. The act of touching stimulates sensors within muscles and joints, sending messages back and forth from the skin to the brain. Essentially, each time your child touches something, the brain receives a message and makes a decision.
Below are some sensory activities for infants and toddlers to explore their sense of touch, as well as activities and exercise games that are more suited for preschool-aged children:
- Manipulate different materials. Babies increase their coordination and muscle strength by exploring various materials. For example, squishing playdough improves hand strength, picking up smaller objects encourages the use of the pincer grasp (between the thumb and index finger) and finger painting promotes pre-literacy skills.
- Build muscle strength. Rolling, pushing, striking and throwing objects encourages large muscle strength. Additionally, crawling or walking over different materials helps children develop an awareness of their bodies, and picking up objects supports hand-eye coordination.
- Explore textures. Touching and manipulating objects with different textures helps develop a child’s touch. Provide smooth/rough, hard/soft, wet/dry, light/heavy and warm/cold objects to play with. You can easily do this with items you have around the house, such as ice cubes, Jell-O or a small beanbag. Here are a few additional activities to help your child explore textures.
- Practice identification. Place assorted everyday objects in a box and have your child use his sense of touch to identify them without looking.
- Practice drawing. Use your finger to draw shapes, letters or numbers on your child’s back and have her to try to guess what you’re drawing. Then, swap roles!
- Go barefoot! Have your child feel things with his hands or feet and think about the sensations he experiences. You can have your child experiment with paint, playdough, grass and carpet. Then, ask him how it feels. Is it rough or smooth? Hot or cold?
- Close your eyes. Encourage your child to close her eyes, and then ask her to identify objects you place in front of her by touch. You can also try leading her outside—ask her to slowly move her feet forward to guess what surface she is walking on and use her sense of touch to identify objects around the yard.
- Create an obstacle course. Have your child go over, under, around and through objects. Then, have him try completing the course with his eyes closed!
- Try matching objects. Present your child with a variety of textured object pairs mixed together, then ask your child to identify the similar objects by simply feeling them.