Tactile Fun in the Sun


Tactile Fun in the Sun Deanna Macioce, MS, OTR/L

So, you have a child who hates to get messy.  Maybe he is the one who chooses not to participate in the finger painting activity at school or the one who wipes his hands clean as soon as anything gets on them.  Or does she choose not to walk on the grass or even play in the snow, or even requests to have all of the tags cut out from her clothing?  If any of these descriptions fit your child or someone you may work with, the child may be labeled as “tactile defensive”.  Tactile defensiveness is a condition that describes a child who reacts negatively or with alarm to a tactile input which is generally considered harmless or non-irritating to a person with a typically developing sensory system.

To help children overcome tactile defensiveness suggestions are given to include various play activities to help increase a child’s tolerance to tactile stimuli.  Often these activities tend to be messy and goopy, and therefore many parents are left to pick and choose the ones suitable for home.  This does not truly allow a child to become engulfed in the whole experience.  That is why summer is a great time to bring all those tactile activities outside. Being outdoors to do these activities will provide some good quality playtime for those children who are tactile defensive.

Now is the time to bring out the shaving cream.  Using a vinyl table cloth or tarp, allow your children to create an entire art masterpiece, or better yet, whip off the shoes and go ‘ice skating’ in summer.  And once you are all done, use the hose for easy clean up.

This is also a great time of year to spruce up those flower beds or plant a vegetable garden.  Allow your child to help dig up the dirt and begin planting.  Begin with using gardening gloves, moving then to thin, medical gloves, and if you can get them to go bare handed.  This will really let them get dirty while exploring the earth.

Take some time to just play in the grass.  Take off their shoes and let them run!  Feeling the grass with their hands, and allowing the blades to touch their skin is a great experience.  Make your playtime in the grass fun with tossing or kicking a ball, log rolling, or having races, including running, hopping, crab walking, and bear walking.

Get creative with some full body painting using pudding.  Not only with this provide a sticky, wet, soft tactile input to the skin, it is also very yummy to lick your fingers clean.  And then enjoy a trip through the sprinkler for a fun way to clean up.

Fill a baby pool with dry media-beans, rice, sand or pasta allowing for more of a full body experience.  Hide items in the pool and give your child a treasure hunt list to find the items. Placing a tablecloth under the pool will also make clean up a breeze.  If you want to get really adventurous, fill the pool with cooked spaghetti allowing your child to take a ‘swim’.

Any type of water play is a great activity, especially for those children who do not enjoy the bathing ritual.  Provide cups and bowls of various sizes for scooping and dumping the water out.  And using any type of squeeze toy also helps with fine motor strengthening.

So, now is the time to take advantage of the summer weather and the ability to be messy outside.  This will be truly beneficial for the child who has tactile defensiveness.  And these activities are also great and lots of fun for any child.


Joshua D. Feder, M.D.
415 North Highway 101, Suite E
Solana Beach, CA 92075
Phone: 619-417-7506
Fax: (888) 959-2137

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