Tactile Learning Activity: Unique Hands-On Ideas

Tactile Learning Activity

This tactile learning activity is easy to use and so fun for kids! Children use only the sense of touch and tactile discrimination skills to feel and identify learning materials. Use it during holidays or throughout the year in your learning centers, classroom stations, or during brain breaks. 

Most great teachers have a variety of teaching methods for the different learning styles in their classroom.  

They add sensory input to lesson plans to ensure that students have a variety of different ways to understand new information being taught.   

Children spend a large amount of their day using their visual systems which is great for the visual learners. There are also auditory learners who benefit from hearing instruction in different ways to help process information.   

However, kids’ bodies and nervous systems are still maturing; they need more than just visual and auditory input to nurture their brains when learning.

Teachers need to use a whole body approach to learning using physical movement and kinesthetic learning activities for the kids that seek body input and need to move.

It’s important to use a hands-on approach for all kids.  

They need opportunities to use manipulatives and physical objects to enhance the learning process. When kids participate in tactile activities, concepts are easier to understand.

The Tactile System Overview

The tactile system is one of our 8 sensory systems that fuel our brain with information.  Our skin is the largest organ in our body.  The touch receptors in the tactile system provide us with protective and discriminative information.  

The touch system helps to protect us from danger and harm.  It gives info about pain, temperature, pressure, and vibration. We feel when things are sharp or hot and we know to withdraw or stay away.  

Our tactile system protects us from feeling when a bug or critter lands on or crawls on our arm or leg.  In addition to feeling the bug, our tactile system also gives us precise, specific feedback on the exact location of where the bug landed so we can swat it away.  

Furthermore, the touch system gives us specific information and allows us to discriminate differences in the objects we feel such as size, texture and shape. 

For example, if you reach into a laptop bag, you can pull out a pen instead of a pencil.

Similarly, if you reach into your pocket or a bag to grab a coin, you’re able to tell the difference between a quarter, a nickel and a dime.  

The proprioceptive system works closely with the tactile system to give info from within the muscles and joints regarding force and movement of our hands and fingers.  It helps the tactile system understand the weight and size of objects.

These two systems work together to help the brain feel objects.

Our hands are small in relation to the our bodies.  However, there are tons of touch receptors packed in the skin on our hands.  (This is similar to the nerves in the mouth as mentioned in the Oral Sensory Activities post.)

This is why tactile learning experiences and hands-on activities are so important for kids.  

Babies begin to learn by using the mouth and the hands to explore objects. As they mature, they outgrow the need to mouth toys, blocks, and different textures.  But learning with the hands should continue for all children.  

Why Hands-On Activities Are Important for Children

Hands-on activities are important for children for exploring and learning.  Young children and older students need to use their sense of touch to develop strong connections in the brain. 

So much information is provided to the brain when using the hands.  Physical objects are the best way to support the learning process for a tactile-kinesthetic learners. 

They can be used during any subject such as math, reading, science, social studies and during play.   

Additionally, with our rapid increase in digital learning and technology, it’s important to find extra ways to encourage kids to use their hands.

The increase in screens and less physical movement play is negatively impacting fine motor skills such as hand strength and finger dexterity in kids.  

This gives even more reason to make sure you’re using a tactile learning style with kids. 

During my occupational therapy sessions, I use a variety of multi-sensory activities for kids.  Many benefit from physical and kinesthetic learning activities.  

A fun tactile learning activity (explained below) is to focus on tactile discrimination.  Tactile discrimination is the ability to identify an object by only using the sense of touch.  

For this activity, children have to reach into a sock, bag, or box to find or identify an object, letter, or number by only using the hands. 

This physical activity for the hands is great for kids because it gives so much more input for the brain during learning.  

It’s also an added challenge for my visual learners who really rely on seeing everything. They have to concentrate and focus on feeling the physical objects and their brains have to process the touch info, rather than using the visual sense.  

Tactile Learning Activity

Tactile Learning Activity – How to Make Feely Bags and Feely Boxes

A hands on physical activity is a great way to stimulate the sense of touch during play and learning.  

This tactile learning activity is easy to add to play, learning centers or for group activities.  It can be created and adapted in many different ways.  You can use whatever learning objects you have in your classroom centers for each subject.  

The following are examples of objects to use as the bag or container to hold the learning items, toys, or physical objects. Finding one that doesn’t allow for peeking is important.  Some kids don’t mean to peek during this kinesthetic activity, they’re just so used to using their eyes to help their hands!   

  • Clean sock (long fuzzy socks work well)
  • Backpack or drawstring sack
  • Empty tissue box
  • Small cinch bag (puffer coat bags or sleeping bags work well)
  • Stocking (with a loosely tied string or band around the top if the opening is too large)
  • Winter hat (with a string or band around the base)
  • Pillowcase (with ties around the top if needed)
  • Large soft sock inside a cylindrical container (folded down around the top of the container)
  • Empty box with an X cut out in the top
  • Gift bag (with crumpled tissue paper covering the hidden learning objects)
  • Large basket with shredded paper or plastic grass in it (place a cover on as needed so kids don’t peek)

How to Incorporate This Tactile Discrimination Activity into Learning Routines

Choose your feely bag or feel and find box for your tactile learning activity.  Then, place the objects inside. 

I use this activity in so many ways.  It’s easy to use with young students for simple concepts such as letter or number identification.  I will have pairs of letters and numbers for them to match.  Or I put shapes in the feely bag when they have to complete a puzzle.  I make sure they either find a shape that I ask them to find, or they feel one and tell me what it is before pulling it out of the bag, sock, or box.  

Listed are examples of how to incorporate tactile discrimination activities into academic lessons. These are only a small list of possibilities. I’m sure you can come up with many more!  

  • Math: reach in a bag to feel and find magnet, wooden or foam number; sequence numbers or build and solve math problems.  Feel inside the bag to identify coins or collect coins to match a money value. 
  • Language lessons: feel and find letters (magnet, wooden, or foam) for matching sounds, spelling name, spelling words, etc.  Locate an object that someone else is describing.  
  • Writing: What’s in the bag? Feel a mystery object, describe in full sentences to others, write sentences about it, or use it as a writing prompt for a story.
  • Science: describe properties that are felt such as shape/size/texture/weight.  Feel and match a figurine that matches a specific habitat or an object that matches a definition.
  • Social Studies: match wooden puzzle state outlines. Identify objects from history or from various cultures.

How to Incorporate This Tactile Learning Activity into Play

Tactile discrimination games, such as Guidecraft’s 3D Feel and Find, include reaching into a cinched bag to remove a complex shape that matches an outline.  There are also other games that include matching various textures of objects.

You can modify your existing games to incorporate this unique learning style.  Place the small pieces of any game in your feely container to add the challenge of tactile discrimination: puzzle pieces, shape sorters or games such as Perfection. 

Make sure the child is unable to peek inside before retrieving the desired shape to match to a chosen outline. 

Additionally, household items, kitchen items, play food or animal figurines can also be used.

During the holidays, teachers and I place items such as ornaments, pine cones, candy canes, gift bows, etc. into a stocking. 

Younger students may need a model of the object visually in front of them. They reach into the stocking to feel and find a match to the object that the teacher has chosen for them to find. 

Older students would describe what they were feeling without peeking and have peers guess what’s in the stocking. 

Or, the teacher would have them feel a mystery object in a bag and use it as a writing prompt.

Tactile Discrimination OT Activity for Kids
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Additional Tips for the Tactile Discrimination Activity 

When beginning this tactile learning activity, start with only a few objects at a time to make sure kids can have some success feeling the difference between objects.

If I have students match 5 items, I’ll start by having them pull out one at a time and they keep the match out of the bag.  Matching the fifth object is easy because it’s the only one left!

Then, during the next round of matching, I’ll have them reach in the bag to feel for a match, but they place that item back in the bag so they have to feel all of the items each time.

To increase the challenge of feeling for objects, add extra items or textures to the bag to make the searching a little harder.

For example, during craft projects, I have students choose which foam stickers they want (egg, bunny, bird, etc) and then they have to feel and find it in a bag of shredded paper or grass before using it for their craft.

More Hands-On Activities During Learning

Simple DIY Math Manipulatives for Tactile and Kinesthetic Learning – This blog post covers manipulatives for math.  Be sure to use this tactile learning style in the classroom or for homework.

Art Projects for Kids – Supporting Reading, Writing and Math Skills – Use arts and crafts for every type of learner to increase creativity with fun tactile activities. 

Super Easy Fine Motor Activity – Construction Paper – This blog post shares a simple activity that can be used with young students and older students. 

School-Based OT

Amy Hathaway MOT, OTR/L, CIMI-2 is a licensed and registered occupational therapist.  She is the founder of Develop Learn Grow. 

Amy has 22 years of experience as a pediatric occupational therapist.   She enjoys collaborating with teachers, parents, therapists, administrators, and support staff in preschools & schools, as well as coaching and guiding parents of infants and toddlers in their homes.

She is married and has three children.  Click to read Amy’s bio.  

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