Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Wordy Wednesday: Tactile

Welcome to Wordy Wednesday!
Today's subject:
1. of, pertaining to, endowed with, or affecting the sense of touch.
2. perceptible to the touch; tangible. (

Getting started young. 

Our first sensory experience takes place in the womb, and do you know which sense it involves?

Yes, our sense of touch. This sense plays an enormous roll in our lives everyday, an essential roll. Not only is this an external sense, but we have receptors inside our bodies as well.

It's these receptors that alert us when we are hungry or full. That let us know that our bladder needs emptying, that our throat hurts because of illness, or allows us to feel pain because our appendix is about to burst! It's how an expectant mother can feel the fluttering kicks (or stabs and pile drives) of her precious baby before it's born.  

All of these receptors are part of the greater somatosensory system which can be divided into four general areas: 1. touch, or tactile information (smooth, rough, wet, dry, etc.) 2. temperature 3. pain 4. proprioception

Each of these senses relay essential information to our brain by themselves, but we use them almost constantly in combination in order to most efficiently experience our world. From before we are born this sense of combined touch teaches us how to best function in, and understand, our surroundings.

It's for this reason that tactile play is so important for babies and kids. Children learn more about their world and their place in it through touch than any other sense. This should come as no surprise. Our skin is, after all, our largest sensory organ.

It's understandable then that individuals who experience difficulties processing these sensory messages could show difficulties functioning in "normal" environments or settings.

Those with tactile defensiveness have felt, often from infancy, that their body is constantly under attack, and so the world to them can feel like a very unsafe and unpredictable place. This would probably make you quite agitated too. Our bodies were not designed to be in a constant adrenaline rush.

For those who have seeking tendencies though, the world can be a very exciting place! Everything must be touched and tasted! This may be very thrilling for the child, but is usually worrisome (occasionally terrifying or embarrassing, or both) for the parents, I think, especially for mothers.

A bit of a nature rant...

All children, whether they have processing challenges or not, need to be able to freely explore the world through their sense of touch. This has become a challenge of sorts in our technology driven, high speed, sanitized world. Especially in industrialized countries. Opportunities for our children, and for us as well, to experience their natural world through touch are disappearing. 

We have been persuaded to believe (by those who have profits to rake in) that anything natural is "dirty" and has "germs". As a result the all-too-familiar phase, "don't touch", has created voids of tactile information that our brains are hungry for. This is especially critical when our children are very young and their brains are experiencing such rapid growth. 

There are many fantastic experiences to be had and tons of information to be absorbed by means of technology and the modern marvels of plastic. But our bodies are composed of the same elements as our beautiful earth and all it's flora and fauna. No wonder then that nature tends to have a very restorative influence on our bodies, minds and emotions. 

Think about it, what do we like to listen to in order to relax or to help our babies sleep? Often it's the sounds of nature. Waves, crickets, rain. Not traffic or copy machines. Most of us prefer natural lighting and seek it out as much as possible, even sometimes suffering from things like Seasonal Affective Disorder if we don't get enough of it. Aromatherapy consists of essential oils and actual plants or minerals. Not bleach or "new car smell".

The point is, the human brain is designed to interpret and respond to our natural world. And the results are vastly superior to artificial environments. Why do you think camping is so much fun? Just walking outside on a nice day can release endorphins. Much more than will be released by googling "tropical paradise images".   

Our kiddos need this type of input. It can calm and soothe them too. (I do realize that kids with tactile defensiveness often have a lot of difficulty with outdoor experiences. I hope that they gradually find their comfort zone that allows them to enjoy instead of dread outdoor activities. Until then, maybe bringing some of the outdoors in might help lessen their anxieties, and allow them to experience nature closer to their terms. Do whatever works for your kiddo!)

It's a regular occurrence around here that the kids, usually lead by Zak, will be tearing through the house, falling, jumping, crashing, shouting, whooping, just being rowdy and crazy. So I will tell them to go do that stuff outside. Within minutes of being outside, they are suddenly calm, conversational, and usually bent over examining some rock or bug. No trace of the crazies that just went on and left the living room in shambles. They nearly instantaneously morph into different children, quietly digging in the sandbox, rhythmically swinging, diligently following a trail of ants.

After a while they will trickle back in, and almost like clockwork, the noise level gradually increases, the walking turns to chasing, and what do you know, there they are right back to exactly what got them put outside in the first place. Very unfortunately for us we don't have a hundred acres for them to go out and explore, and imagine and really experience what this earth offers.

Plastic and Play-doh are fine, even great sometimes, but they cannot replace the real experiences offered by natural textures, smells, and sights. I know I need to be much more proactive in providing these opportunities for my kiddos.

Have your pie and eat it too!

In the in-between times though, here is a tactile activity that I was able to put together for my Goat Baby who eats everything, thus making it challenging sometimes to provide her with relatively clean tactile play. (Some days I just can't handle cleaning up finger paint pudding or sprinkles again!)

I bought a couple of refrigerated pie crusts to keep on hand. When I need to keep Kit busy for a few minutes, like when I'm cooking, I can pull it out and give her a ball of it with little surprises like chocolate chips or coconut flakes or raisins hidden in it. 

She gets to smoosh, squeeze, pat and roll it. She digs through it to find the treats, and, the whole thing is edible! It's not too sticky or messy either. This is wonderful since I can't let her play with play dough or clay without me being right there next to her. Win, win!

This is a cool article with some fun ideas for kids of various ages.

My last point, I promise!

How can we expect to raise our kids to care about the earth and the plants and animals that inhabit it if they themselves are taught that it is full of things that can hurt them or make them sick? Why would our kids grow up and want to preserve trees if they've never climbed one? How much will they care that birds habitats are destroyed everyday if they've never had the chance to see a nest, and how hard the birds work to build it, and feed their babies?

We can't expect them to show respect for this jewel that we live on if we surround them with concrete and plastic and tell them that HD is the best way to view the world.

Sorry Blueray, but you can't hold an LED to an actual sunset and fireflies.


  1. I enjoy your posts. Especially this one it was funny, informative and had good suggestions for my kiddos, in your words :-)
    Thanks and keep it up!

  2. It's amazing how my kids become so much better behaved when I take them outside! When it's good weather, they're outside for several hours a day. It's incredible what nature can do for us!