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Tactile Stimuli in the Classroom

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The act of touching seems so simple. Use the word tactile, and all simplicity is gone.  Touch is a very complex and complicated sense.  There's the act of touching or receiving touch from another human being or creature.  Depending on one's idea of personal space and boundaries, this can be pleasant, or not so much.  Our body is constantly touching clothing and other materials such as blankets, pillows, etc.  Fabrics can be soothing or completely irritating.  Then there's every other object in the universe.  I can't begin to count the number of objects I touch in one day.

There are so many varying factors when using the tactile sense.  What temperature is the object? Is it wet or dry?  Does it feel rough or smooth?  Perhaps it's sharp or prickly?  Is it slippery?  Perhaps it's too hard or too soft?  How heavy does it feel?  What material is it made from?

It's easy to think about the tactile sense deciding about bedding or towels for a bathroom.
Have we ever thought about it when considering every objects we touch throughout the day?  Have you thought about all that has touched you in a day?  Every person responds differently to the many different aspects of touch.
Dinomite & Bulldozer's Room
How can you meet the varying tactile needs of students in your classroom?

Dinomite is hypersensitive to touch in regards to other human beings.  If people are too close, he can't function.  However he can't keep his hands off others.  Dinomite sits alone, not just because he works better that way, but because he prefers it.  Bulldozer doesn't like others touching him, especially on the head. Washing hair, getting haircuts, combing hair, etc. are all battles with him.  If it wasn't for natural consequences, I don't think we would have ever convinced Bulldozer he needed to wear a hat in the winter.  When doing learning time activities, Bulldozer does best at a table by himself.  Princess' muscles tighten the moment someone touches her, when she's not expecting it.  She does not want people touching her hands or feet ever.  Her response is more out of fear than anything else, but we know to make sure others don't touch her. Princess does best with her own work space.  Sunshine is my most hyersensitive tactile kiddo.  She doesn't like to be touched period.  We've never really been able to hold her or cuddle her.  Those are things she just can't handle.

When it comes to clothing and fabric items, every kiddo is so different.  Dinomite wouldn't sleep with a blanket for the first two years of his life.  No matter how hard we tried, he refused. I still have a picture of the first time he decided to cuddle up in a blanket. The same went with a pillow.  He's progressed now to sleeping with one light blanket, but that's it.  Thankfully Dinomite wasn't too picky with his clothes.  Bulldozer on the other hand...  He won't wear anything with buttons, snaps or zippers, no matter where they are on the clothing.  Princess and Sunshine are the same way.  Oh, and doing the girls' hair.  It took Princess three years to keep anything in her hair. Still on some days she'll pull it out.  Sunshine won't even let me touch her hair, let alone put anything in it.  I've been cutting her hair short, just so I don't have to worry about the battles.
Princess requested French Braids!
When Dinomite was potty training, he had the hardest time because he could not sit on the potty chair if it was too cold.  Still to this day he has trouble wiping after a bowel movement.  He can't handle the feel of the poop on the wipe/toilet paper.  Oh and food...  Dinomite learned how to use a fork and spoon by the age of 11 months, because he couldn't handle touching his food. He is the cleanest eater I've ever met. Bulldozer could not sit on his bottom at the table until he was about 4 years old. He always had to stand in his chair.  The poor kiddo just couldn't handle how the seat felt on his bottom.  Princess does not like touching objects that are cold, wet or slimy.  It took me forever to help her be okay with working in shaving cream, whipped topping, jello etc.  I'm still learning about Sunshine's tactile function in regards to other objects.

Tactile function can significantly impact a student's behavior in your classroom. It is important to consider all aspects of touch, and then make a plan to provide the best environment and aids you may need.

1. Contact with People:  Does your student like to be touched by others?  Can your student keep their hands and other body parts to themselves?  Where would be the best place to have this student sit while doing work, taking tests, and participating in discussions?  Once you have observed your student, sit down and discuss with them what you're seeing. Ask if it bothers them when others touch them. Ask if they struggle keeping their hands and other body parts to themselves.  Make a plan together.  This way, the child will understand he's not being punished and will feel comfortable talking about his needs during other situations, instead of acting out with negative behaviors.

2.  Clothing:  Does your student seem to be irritated by their clothing?  Perhaps a tag is bothering them? A button? A zipper?  It could be that the child's clothes are too tight or too loose for their liking.  Other times it may be a fabric or added sequins/decorations that are irritating?  Could it be that the child is too warm or too cold because of the way they are dressed?  Are you able to offer them another option of clothing? If not, are you able to communicate with the child to better understand their needs in this area?

3.  Other Objects:  Does your student show sensitivities or cravings for different objects, constantly needing to avoid or make contact?  Can the objects be removed and replaced with an alternative object that better meets the need of the student?  If the child craves the tactile component of an object, is there a way for them to meet that sensory need, whenever needed?

There are many ways to help students with hyper or hypo sensitivities to tactile stimuli.  In our classroom we use hand held manipulatives often.  Most of our activities require the kiddos to work with their hands, moving cards, objects, etc. The busier their hands are the better they learn, especially during instruction time.
Activity & free printable included in our China Unit Study.
During morning work, if Dinomite does not have something in his hands at all times, he struggles.  If he only has his pencil, it almost always ends up broken into several pieces.  Fidget toys are wonderful to have around and are easy to find on Amazon.  Stress balls can help also.

Sensory bins are another great way to help students with tactile sensitivities. They also help students who need tactile stimuli more than others.  The more varying textures the better.  Bulldozer LOVES his sensory bins.  I don't know if he'll ever grow out of using them.
Sensory bin included in our Life At Sea: Pirate Unit Study which includes free printables.
It really is amazing how all of these little tactile components can make such a difference in a kiddo's ability to learn.  I challenge you to observe your students and implement what works best for them.  If you've already done so, I'd love to hear what works for you!


  1. Tactile sensory awareness for a your child is so important to recognize and use appropriately! I love how you wrote about it and gave such good examples!