Incorporating Tactile Play: Fun and Therapeutic Activities for Kids with Tactile Sensitivity
J Julia DeNey

Incorporating Tactile Play: Fun and Therapeutic Activities for Kids with Tactile Sensitivity

Jun 2, 2024

Tactile sensitivity is common among children with sensory processing disorder (SPD). It can make everyday textures and sensations that seem normal to us overwhelming for children. An estimated 5-16% of children in the United States are affected by SPD, and 90% of those with Autism are affected. Addressing these sensitivities is essential for a child’s overall well-being and development. 

One practical approach is incorporating tactile play, which can be both fun and therapeutic. This article introduces various activities that help children with tactile sensitivity and provides detailed instructions on how to implement them to ensure they are enjoyable and beneficial for you and your child. 

Understanding Tactile Sensitivity

Tactile sensitivity is an exaggerated response to touch stimuli. Children with tactile sensitivity might find certain textures, temperatures, or even the lightest touches uncomfortable or distressing. Common triggers include rough fabrics, tags on clothing, or sticky substances.

Engaging in tactile play helps children gradually become accustomed to different textures, enhancing their sensory processing abilities. Tactile play is a tool that can improve a child’s emotional regulation, reduce anxiety related to touch, and support overall sensory development.

Fun & Therapeutic Activities

We compiled 10 activities with instructions to help guide your tactile play experience. Remember that not every child will enjoy each activity, but finding the ones they love will help you grow together in the process. 


1. Sensory Bins

Sensory bins are containers filled with various materials that provide diverse tactile experiences through play. They are an excellent activity that can often be done with minimal oversight, depending on your child’s stage of development. 

Sensory bins allow children to explore a variety of textures in a controlled and enjoyable way. The different fillers provide varying degrees of tactile input, gradually helping children become more comfortable with new sensations.

Materials Needed:

  • Large plastic bins or containers
  • Fillers: rice, dried beans, sand, water beads (or boba if they liked to put things in their mouth!), pasta, or shredded paper
  • Tools: scoops, cups, spoons, small toys, and figurines

How to Implement:

  1. Fill the bin with the chosen material.
  2. Add tools and toys for digging, scooping, and exploring.
  3. Encourage your child to touch, sift, and play with the materials, guiding them to explore different textures.
  4. Change the fillers periodically to introduce new tactile experiences.


2. Playdough & Clay

Soft, moldable materials like playdough and clay offer rich tactile experiences. Their soft, pliable nature allows children to exert control over the texture and pressure, making them comfortable and engaging activities for those with tactile sensitivity.

Materials Needed:

  • Store-bought playdough or homemade dough (recipe: flour, salt, water, oil, and food coloring)
  • Clay
  • Tools: rolling pins, cookie cutters, plastic knives, and stamps

How to Implement:

  1. Provide a clean, flat surface for play.
  2. Show your child how to roll, flatten, and shape the dough or clay.
  3. Encourage them to create different shapes, letters, or objects.
  4. Offer various tools to enhance their play and tactile exploration.


3. Textured Art Projects

Incorporating different textures into art projects stimulates tactile exploration. Textured art projects provide a creative way to engage with various textures. By working with various materials, children can desensitize their tactile responses in a fun, low-pressure environment.

Materials Needed:

  • Various textured materials: sandpaper, cotton balls, fabric scraps, foil, and bubble wrap
  • Glue, scissors, construction paper, and markers

How to Implement:

  1. Set up an art station with all the materials.
  2. Encourage your child to create collages using different textured materials.
  3. Discuss how each material feels as they work with it.
  4. Create tactile books by gluing textured items onto the pages of a homemade book.


4. Water Play

Water play is a versatile and soothing tactile activity. It offers a calming and enjoyable way for children to experience different temperatures and sensations. The fluid nature of water can be particularly soothing for children who are sensitive to touch.

Materials Needed:

  • Water table, basin, or large container
  • Warm and cool water
  • Toys: sponges, cups, small boats, and water-safe toys
  • Optional: bubble solution or water beads

How to Implement:

  1. Fill the container with water at a comfortable temperature.
  2. Add toys and encourage your child to splash, pour, and play.
  3. Introduce bubbles or water beads for added sensory input.
  4. Supervise closely and engage in the activity with your child.


5. Nature Exploration

Collecting and exploring natural items provides diverse tactile experiences. Nature exploration allows children to encounter a wide range of textures in a natural setting, helping desensitize children to different tactile inputs in a calming and enjoyable way.

Materials Needed:

  • A collection bag or basket
  • Natural items: leaves, rocks, shells, pinecones, and flowers
  • Magnifying glass (optional)

How to Implement:

  1. Take a walk in a park or garden and gather various natural items.
  2. At home, set up a sensory table with the collected items.
  3. Encourage your child to touch and explore each item, discussing their textures.
  4. Create nature-themed sensory bins or craft projects with the collected materials.


6. Messy Play

Activities that allow kids to get messy can be highly engaging and therapeutic. Messy play allows children to explore textures in an uninhibited and playful way. This freedom can help reduce anxiety around tactile experiences and promote positive sensory exploration.

Materials Needed:

  • Finger paints, mud, shaving cream, or cornstarch mixed with water (oobleck)
  • Large tray or plastic sheet for easy cleanup
  • Aprons or old clothes

How to Implement:

  1. Prepare a designated play area covered with a plastic sheet or large tray.
  2. Provide the chosen messy materials and encourage your child to explore them freely.
  3. Let them use their hands, feet, or even body to interact with the materials.
  4. Ensure easy access to cleaning supplies and a bath or shower afterward.


7. Textured Pathways:

Creating pathways with different textures can make walking a tactile adventure. Walking on different textured surfaces helps children become more comfortable with various tactile inputs. This activity can improve their tolerance to varying textures in a fun and engaging way.

Materials Needed:

  • Foam mats, carpet squares, bubble wrap, rubber mats, and fabric pieces
  • Tape to secure the materials to the floor

How to Implement:

  1. Arrange the materials in a pathway on the floor.
  2. Secure them with tape to prevent slipping.
  3. Encourage your child to walk barefoot or with socks on the pathway.
  4. Make it a fun game by incorporating challenges or obstacles.


8. Baking & Cooking:

Baking and cooking involve a variety of tactile experiences, from mixing to kneading. Cooking and baking provide a multi-sensory experience, combining tactile, olfactory, and gustatory inputs. The hands-on nature of these activities helps children with tactile sensitivity engage in a structured and enjoyable manner.

Materials Needed:

  • Ingredients: flour, sugar, butter, eggs, etc.
  • Kitchen tools: mixing bowls, spoons, measuring cups, and rolling pins

How to Implement:

  1. Choose a simple recipe to start with, such as cookies or bread.
  2. Involve your child in measuring, mixing, and kneading the ingredients.
  3. Encourage them to feel the different textures of the ingredients.
  4. Allow them to taste and smell the ingredients to engage multiple senses.


9. Tactile Books & Toys

Books and toys designed for tactile exploration can provide focused sensory experiences. Tactile books and toys offer controlled, manageable ways for children to explore different textures. These items can be especially helpful for children who need gradual exposure to new tactile inputs.

Materials Needed:

  • Tactile books with varied textures on each page
  • Tactile toys like fidget spinners, textured balls, and squishy toys

How to Implement:

  1. Read tactile books together, guiding your child to feel each texture.
  2. Provide a selection of tactile toys and encourage your child to explore them.
  3. Discuss how each toy feels and observe their reactions.


10. Gardening

Gardening allows children to connect with nature and explore different textures. It offers a natural and rewarding way to experience different textures. Handling soil, seeds, and plants can help children become more comfortable with various tactile inputs in a calm and structured environment.

Materials Needed:

  • Pots, soil, seeds, and small gardening tools
  • Watering can or spray bottle

How to Implement:

  1. Set up a small gardening area or use pots if space is limited.
  2. Show your child how to plant seeds, dig in the soil, and water the plants.
  3. Encourage them to touch and explore the different textures of soil, leaves, and flowers.
  4. Involve them in regular garden maintenance to observe growth and changes.
  5. Discuss the sensory aspects of gardening, such as the feel of the soil, the texture of different leaves, and the varying scents of the plants.


Tips for Successful Tactile Play

Regardless of the activity you choose for you and your child, the most important thing is to ensure the environment you will do it in is comfortable. The following tips will provide the best outcome possible, along with the most growth for your child: 

Create a Safe & Comfortable Environment:

Ensure the play area is inviting and free from overwhelming stimuli. Use soft lighting and calming colors to create a relaxing atmosphere.

Gradually Introduction to New Textures:

Don’t jump into all new textures, as this may overwhelm your child. Instead, start with familiar and less challenging textures to build confidence, then gradually introduce more complex textures as your child becomes comfortable.

Positive Reinforcement:

Celebrate small achievements and progress to help build your child’s confidence. Use praise and rewards to encourage continued participation.

Incorporate Parental Involvement:

Engage in tactile activities with your child to provide support and encouragement, offer guidance, and be patient as your child explores new textures.

Start Exploring Tactile Play Today! 

Tactile play is a powerful tool for helping children with tactile sensitivity. Parents can support their child's sensory development and emotional regulation by incorporating fun and therapeutic activities. Each activity offers unique textures and sensations, gradually helping children become more comfortable with different tactile experiences and the world around them! 

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