Foam with different colours like a rainbow and a child is touching it

Angelina Chatzaki

The tactile system plays a very important role in motor, cognitive and emotional development of the child. Here are some tactile enhancement activities ideas.

Activities to enhance tactile discrimination

The tactile system first develops in a fetus and plays a very important role in its motor, cognitive and emotional development. When the baby is in the mother's or father's arms, it receives a lot of tactile stimuli that help in calming down and regulating the infant’s emotions. Also, all babies put things in their mouths, and through the tactile stimuli they receive, they learn and discover the properties of objects (small-big, big-hard, etc.). This is how the body learns to distinguish the objects around it.

In addition, touch significantly helps with gross and fine motor skills as well as motor planning. A child who has received appropriate tactile stimuli from an early age shows good body awareness, physical recognition, and fine and gross motor coordination.

For example, children play well with the ball and can easily jump on one foot, while they can also play with Play-Doh or use scissors to cut something.

On the other hand, children with impaired tactile discrimination usually show clumsiness, difficulty in motor coordination, and struggle to manipulate objects with their fingers.

If you are an occupational therapist, you can get some ideas from the following tactile discrimination enhancement activities for children. The secret is to have an abundance of materials so that the tactile stimuli are many and varied.

  • Fill a box with lentils or rice and hide small toys as well as everyday objects such as a key, a peg, a coin, etc. The child wears a blindfold so that he/she cannot see and uses his/her hands to look for the objects in the box. The child should be able to identify them through touches and say what they are.

baby sits on the floor and plays with a pyrex oven dish full of rice and small toys

  • Spread whipped cream or shaving cream on a tray or mirror. The child can use his/her finger to make lines, circles, faces, letters, numbers, etc., depending on age.

kid draws the letter A with the finger in a tray with shaving foam

  • Make a dough with the child or use Play-Doh. The child will make different shapes and patterns such as circles, lines, balls, houses, sun, etc. Use a rolling pin and molds to strengthen the two-hand coordination.

  • Put a bar of soap and water in 2 cans or large plastic bowls. The child can play with the soap and make foam. You can throw in a plastic fish for the child to fish with a fishing net. Make sure the child transfers water from one can to the other using the hands. Additionally, a spoon or a glass may be given to carry the water.

two kids are playing with soap and water in a big plastik  box using spoons and other toys

  • Place beach sand in a cardboard box and wet it a little. The child can make various designs such as towers, shapes, etc. Alternatively, you can use artificial sand (Magic sand), which does not get wet.

  • Spread a large cardboard box or plastic surface on the floor. The child will use finger paint to draw with his/her hands and feet.

girl with Down Syndrom smiles at the camera and shows her hands, which are painted with different colours of fingerpaint

  • Make jelly and put small objects such as fish in it. The child has to scoop up the jelly to get the objects. The eyes may be closed as well for enabling the child to identify the objects by touching them.

eight different pictures of kids playing sensory games with jelly

  • Collect various soft and hard surfaces and ingredients, such as grass, embossed paper, pebbles, etc. Place them in plastic boxes and let the child walk on them.

a girl and a boy are walking inside boxes that are full of hard and soft ingredients

While all these activities are indicative, a therapist can use different materials to reinforce tactile discrimination. Of course, there is a need for adaptation depending on the age and abilities of the child. We always prefer to start with easy activities and gradually increase the difficulty and complexity levels.

For example, the jelly and fish activity could be continued with more movements. After the child has found the fish inside the jelly, he/she might be asked to crawl a few feet across the floor, then walk across surfaces, and finally roll up to a box to place the fish inside.

We always have to be mindful of the child's needs and combine the sensory stimuli activities optimally to achieve the goals set.

From the Synopsis Team Angelina Chatzaki, Occupational Therapist