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Exploring the Sense of Touch

Kathryn L. Stout, B.S.Ed., M.Ed.
Published: June 1999
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Let your children explore and make discoveries about their senses. Not only will they develop a greater understanding of their own capabilities, improve their vocabulary and ability to observe, but even though these activities "count" as school—your kids will think it's just summer fun! Here's a popular activity and several variations for exploring the sense of touch with children from ages 3 to 7.

Identify Objects in a Sack

Easy:
Place several familiar objects in a sack. Have each child reach in, and using only the sense of touch, name the object before pulling it out. (For example, the sack could contain several of the following: spoon, fork, small ball, tooth brush, cup, small plate, pencil, small book, marble, cotton ball, paper clip, sock, shoe lace, magnifying glass, jump rope, block from a Leggo set, candle, small tablet, etc.)

More Difficult:
Have each child describe the object before pulling it out of the sack. Children are likely to name the object first. However, it is their ability to describe their observations that is important in developing critical thinking skills. Therefore, encourage each child to describe as many of the object's qualities as he can by offering choices that help him explain the shape, size (bigger than, smaller than), texture, weight (light or heavy) and/or use. That is, ask, "Is it soft?"Hard?"Prickly?"Longer than your hand?" and so on.

Variation 1:
Have each child pull out two objects that are opposites in some way:
hard/soft, rough/smooth, big/small, light/heavy.

Easy:
Name the combination for each child to find. "Find something soft. Pull it out. Now pull out something hard."

Medium:
Name the first part of the combination and ask the child to name the opposite. "Find something smooth." Now, find something that is the opposite of smooth. What would that feel like? (rough, coarse, prickly, etc.) (The child may be able to pull out an object that reflects his understanding of the opposite, but be unable to provide a correct word. In that case, praise his actions and supply the descriptive word.)

More Difficult:
The child pulls out an object, then reaches in and feels for something that is its opposite in some way. For example, if he pulls out a spoon, he could feel for something softer (hard/soft), something lighter or heavier than the spoon, or something that is rough if the spoon is mostly smooth.

Variation 2:
Have each child pull out two objects that are the same in some way, including use. For example, items used for eating (i.e., food or pieces of a table setting), for play (i.e., toys), or for writing (i.e., pen, pencil, marker).

Variation 3:
Name an object and have the child find it in the sack, using only the sense of touch.

Easy:
Two very different objects. (A ball and a pencil, for example.)

Increase difficulty:

  • Add more objects, all very different.
  • Include some objects that have similarities. (For example, a pencil and a pen among such different items as a spoon, block, and paper clip.)
  • Work toward a combination of objects that have very few differences. The most difficult would be to have several objects that are all similar in several ways. For example, use all blocks with the same texture and thickness, but different in shape. Or, if the blocks are the same in shape, they could vary in length.

Variation 4:
Use only fruits and vegetables in the sack. Tell the child whether to select a fruit or a vegetable by his sense of touch alone. Or, have him describe the item and then tell whether it is a fruit or a vegetable.

In order to encourage each child to become more precise when he describes objects; have him add to his initial description by asking about anything left out—shape, texture, thickness, or use. For example, a spoon could be described simply as "We eat with it." The teacher could follow up with a question about its shape. The child could respond with "It's sort of round at one end and then with a long part," or "One end is a sort of oval and curves and can hold something. Then there is a longer handle part." The teacher could continue by offering choices, "Is it hard or smooth?"Thick or thin?" If the game does not require him to describe, then use an interesting variety of words to direct him in finding an object. For example, ask him to "Find the squishiest item in the sack." Or "Find something with one pointy end and one blunt end." Offering children choices of descriptive words helps them build their vocabulary in a meaningful way.

Words to describe shape involve feeling the ends and edges of items. Shape words may include: round, sharp corners, has edges, straight edges, curved, pointed, flat, blunt, dull, circle, oval, square, rectangle, like a ball (sphere), like a box (cube), like an egg.

Words to describe texture may include: soft, hard, firm, smooth, rough, coarse, bristly, squishy, spongy, wavy or bumpy (like corrugated cardboard), slimy, silky. Encourage the use comparisons—soft as cotton, or smooth as silk, for example. Point out such expressions (similes) in poems and stories. If you include older children in the game at some point, they may enjoy taking over your role by playing it with their siblings later. Games are a wonderful teaching tool and especially handy during the summer. If you are planning a vacation, this is a simple game for kids to enjoy while they travel.



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