Learning through touch at school

Posted: 20 May, 2016

By: Annemarie Lombard

Section: Education

Learning through touch at school

Caleb is a four year old child who attends pre-school. He loves playing and constantly explores his environment. He uses his sense of touch to make more sense of his world and seek out as many opportunities as possible for tactile stimulation. He is dirty from head to toe at the end of the day. You will always find him outside playing in the sand pit and he loves pouring sand all over his legs and feet.

During autumn, Caleb loves to scoop up and squash the dry leaves that have fallen from the trees, squealing with delight. Whilst doing art and craft activities he will dip his fingers in the glue and peel them off afterwards, enjoying the touch sensation on his hands. During finger painting he dips his whole hand in the paint and squishes the paint between his fingers, enjoying every minute of messiness (much to his teacher’s horror as most of the paint ends up on his clothes, the floor and the table).

His teacher often asks him to “Keep your hands to yourself”, but he just cannot stop chasing and touching his friends. While standing in line, Caleb constantly bumps into other children, rubs, pokes or pushes them. During circle time, Caleb sits on a chair preventing him from rolling over the mat and other children. While sitting, Caleb twists his hair with one or both hands. Caleb’s T-shirt is constantly wet because he chews on the collar or sleeve throughout the day.

Caleb is a tactile seeker.

He craves (seeks) tactile inputs because he is under-stimulated by touch. This means that it takes an excessive amount of tactile input before Caleb’s brain can register that he has been touched. He constantly touches himself, objects in class, and other children. He rolls around on the floor during circle time because his body needs excessive tactile input to stay alert and help him pay attention. Like all pre-schoolers, Caleb learns about his environment through touching and manipulating objects, while taking the experience a step further, to be able to learn.

Tactile seekers may:

  • Appear to crave touch
  • Constantly puts objects in his mouth
  • Love messy activities and experiences
  • Bumps into things and people
  • Unable to keep hands to him/herself
  • Stuffs mouth with food
  • Rubs textures over his/her arms or legs
  • Gets very close with others when playing or talking
  • Rubs/bites own skin
  • Touches others constantly

Classroom strategies – look for ways to provide appropriate tactile experiences:

  • Rather than the child chew on toys or his collar, offer him/her raisins, popcorn, biltong that requires chewing
  • Chewy tubes help to provide opportunities for touch through the mouth.
  • When the child is seated, provide a textured blanket or pillow that he/she can rub, touch or hold on his/her lap (establish rules when using textured objects e.g. “The toy needs to stay in your pocket”)
  • Fiddling toys are great at providing appropriate outlets for touch
  • Use a keychain and attach a small toy to his/her belt or place an object in his pocket
  • Constantly change items/objects so he/she does not become bored with them
  • Use carpet squares so that the child can identify where he needs to sit – it provides with a visual reminder of where his space is
  • To sit inside the circle of a hoola hoop during circle time may help him/her understand his/her personal space.