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The Importance of Touch and Hands-on Play for Children

The Importance of Touch and Hands-on Play for Children

The Importance of Touch and Hands-On Play for Children


If you have a toddler or a baby, you know how curious children are! Go to a shop with a child and prepare to be amazed at how curious they are! Babies want to touch everything in their sight, don’t they? Do you know why?

Not only does touch help babies interact with the objects around them, but it also gives them an insight into the three dimensional world that we live in and the dynamics of the objects that visually interact with them.


Spatial Awareness for Children


Hands on play helps greatly in developing spatial awareness. Spatial awareness is the awareness of oneself in space, and also the awareness of other objects in relation to self in that given space. This also includes the relationship of self to the objects when your position changes in that space. Spatial awareness is a very important skill for cognitive development. For example, for a baby, this would mean developing awareness of themselves as a person, their sensing of their surroundings and its objects, and how they interact with those objects, both moving and stationary.

Spatial awareness develops naturally when children have the ability and freedom to explore their environment without any real limits. Play is the best way for babies to learn about themselves and the way they relate to their surroundings naturally. As babies become more mobile, they learn to manipulate objects and also learn about distances and sizes when they are able to move towards those objects.


All about Proprioception


Spatial awareness is part of our overall perception.  As perception is the organization and interpretation of sensory stimuli from our environment, the child would need to have adequate body awareness to be able to form the relationship of their body with stimuli and objects within that space. This is key to developing spatial awareness. Proprioception is the awareness of where our limbs are in space. This is developed alongside spatial awareness.

For example, when a baby reaches for a toy they lean how far they need to stretch their arm muscles (proprioception) in order to reach the distance of the toy (spatial awareness). The next time the baby reaches for that toy they would have learnt something about the amount of muscle stretch needed and the distance of the toy. This can then be applied to a similar object at a similar distance another time. The child will eventually become familiar with where their limbs are without having to look at them. Distances, speed and placement will be integrated so that the child will know what they can reach and can't reach when they stretch their arm.


Age appropriate sensory activities related to touch


These are a few age appropriate activities that you can set up for your kids, under your supervision,  that involve the sense of touch.

0-3 months

  • Provide the baby an age appropriate rattle to hold and shake.
  • Provide plenty of skin to skin touch to the baby.
  • Touch different body parts gently with a beep, and see how baby reacts to your touch and sound.

4-6 months

  • Encourage baby to touch various textures of fabric, like wool, velvet, cotton, corduroy, etc.
  • Find big balls of various sizes, shape and colors, and allow baby to drop and throw and see the interaction of the baby with the ball.

7-9 months

  • Exploring and examining an object with both hands
  • Experimenting picking up an object to see how much force is required to lift it.
  • Turn pages of a chunky book.
  • Focus on near and far away objects.
  • Investigate shape, size and textures of toys and surroundings.
  • Introducing baby to various textures of food and allowing self feeding.

10-12 months

  • Encourage baby to crawl over, under and through various objects in your home.
  • Introducing new textures to baby via food, toys and clothes.

13-18 months

  • Blowing bubbles and allowing baby to reach to pop them.
  • Sensory bin with blocks of different sizes, colors and texture, none small enough to be a choking hazard. Allow child to explore with all their senses.

Above 18 months

  • Playing with a ball of dough.
  • Sooji tray for self expression.
  • Mud play at the park.
  • Playing with sand.
  • Rainbow rice play with colored rice and a few props for exploration.
  • Food sensory play with purees or sauces and syrups are a big hit with kids. Squirt some and watch your child interact with the sticky texture and draw with it.
  • Cooking and baking with the child while allowing hands on exploration of the ingredients.
  • Painting with fingers and hands.
  • Play dough
  • Dish soap foam play
  • Squishy gel bag for mess free play.
  • Ice cubes
  • Slime with cornflour


Tips to develop spatial awareness at home


We hear you. Activities sometimes involve a lot of effort to set up.

Fear not. These are a few simple ways that you can incorporate spatial awareness activities in your daily life without having to set up activities.

  • By describing the location of objects - “The book is on top of the table”, “The cup is in the right side cupboard in the kitchen”.
  • Play treasure hunt – Hide an object and give instructions on its location to the child to find the object.
  • Having conversations comparing the location of two objects based on the distance between you and the objects – “The cup is further away from me than the plate.”
  • Simon Says – Give a set of instructions to do a particular action.
  • Tunnels or Jungle gyms and climbing frames help develop spatial awareness to a great extent because the child needs to use his spatial awareness skills to move his limbs just enough to climb and crawl.
  • Construction games like Tessellations, Magnetic tiles, Legos are great for building spatial awareness and cognitive development because each part connects to each other and make a whole structure. Descriptions of the structure made can be a really good way to connect with the child and encourage spatial awareness during play – “Oh, I can see that you put this red sloped part on top of the blue part to make it look like a roof!”.
  • Model-making using guides also develop spatial awareness because child sees model, sees the relation of the pieces in relation to each other and tries to replicate the same.


So allow your child to get messy and use their sense of touch for an all round spatial and cognitive development! Happy and messy parenting!