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Elf On The Shelf Sensory Series: Touch and Tactile Activities
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What has your elf been up to this year? Our little helper has been having tons of fun with our kids and students working their gross motor and fine motor skills. It is such a magical time of year. I look forward (most of the time) to setting up the elf with some funny and interactive activities for my kids. We’ve been trying out some new skills this week with Jack, our elf. Now that we have incorporated both gross motor and fine motor activities with our elf, we are now switching gears to focus on sensory activities our kids can do with the elf in the final weeks leading up to the holidays. Here at our house we have been focusing on some tactile and touch games.
What Is Tactile Perception?
Tactile perception is all the information from the skin including touch, pain, pressure and temperature going to the brain; and the brain’s ability to perceive what the hands or skin is feeling. Ordinarily, touch perception operates on an autonomic level, not much cognitive thinking required. When this resource is impaired, basic functions take a great deal of energy. Research has shown that tactile perception is linked with visual perception (how children track words on a page and copy instructions from the chalkboard). It is common to see children with problems in both of these sensory areas.
Why Is Tactile Perception So Important?
When you stick your hand in your purse to find your keys, it is your touch perception that helps you find them without your eyes. How does it feel to do housework with rubber gloves on? We put rubber gloves on to keep our hands clean and avoid harsh chemicals when deep cleaning, but while the gloves are on, they limit our ability to know exactly what our hands our feeling. With gloves on, you are more likely to be clumsy because it’s hard to be accurate with limited sensory perceptions from our fingers. This is an example of what it is like to have issues with tactile perception. It limits motor planning. A child may not be able to do the small manipulations with his or her fingers to fasten a button without looking at it.
How the Elf Can Help
Let’s set up some of these fun tactile activities with the elf and let the kids join in. These are some great exercises for kids stimulate those touch receptors and get the brain working. The great thing about these examples is that you can find most, if not all, of the supplies in your home right now.
Snow Angel Elf
Or should I say pantry item angel? You can set this one up quick. Spread a thin layer of powdered sugar or corn meal on the kitchen counter. Lay the elf down in the middle of the mess and gently move his arms and legs up and down to make marks like he was making a snow angel. Spread a little more of the same pantry item on the counter close by the elf and when the kids find the elf, have them write their name in dust. This is a great exercise to incorporate both tactile senses and fine motor skills.
For your set up, pour a small amount of uncooked pasta into a mixing bowl and place the elf near or in the bowl with a spoon in his hands. In the large plastic tub, pour some dry pasta in it and place the measuring cups and plastic bottles in it as well. The idea is to show the elf is getting ready to cook, but needs your child’s help as well. This is a fantastic touch perception exercise as well as sound integration. Help your child measure and pour the pasta into the plastic bottles and secure the lid on the bottle. Have your child then give it a shake, shake, shake. They can play with the pasta with their fingers while mixing and dumping the pasta in and out of the bottles or mixing bowl to their hearts content.
Extra fun tip: Add different types of pasta (size and shape) to expand your child’s tactile experience.
Take several different colors of tissue paper and rip some up into smaller pieces and shapes. Then, stuff into the bags. You can create several bags or one per child. If you choose to do a small gift or treat, place it at the bottom in the bag with all the tissue paper on top. Place the elf nearby the bags and let the kids go at it! This is a perfect activity for toddlers. This exercise is a sensory building activity where your child can get used to the feel of the tissue paper and it provides tactile stimulation when the child crunches it up in their hands.
Shaving Cream Painting
This is a much-loved activity in our house. We have tried several variations and it always turns out fun! Place the plastic table cloth over the table and put a cooking sheet on the table. Place the shaving cream bottle in the arms of your elf or have him leaning up against it. If you have another can of shaving cream you can spray the shaving cream all over the cooking sheet and mix a few drops of food coloring in with the cream. Spread the color around a little with a spoon and you are good to go. The kids will have a ball getting messy and playing in the foam. When done, grab the table cloth that is most likely a disaster and toss in the garbage.
Another great tactile activity to try with your elf is to add dry rice to a bowl, similar to our pasta activity above. Add fun objects to your bowl (for example, beads, toys, rocks, and any other small objects) and mix it with the rice. You can place your elf inside the bowl with the rice or if you want to have a little fun, put him head first into the rice bowl as he digs for the objects. This is a great tactile activity your kids will enjoy because it allows them to dig through the texture of the rice to find all the small hidden objects. This is also a great activity to build their fine motor skills and visual perception.
This activity is an easy one, but also great for tactile and sensory. You can buy a pine cone at the store or find one from a local tree in your neighborhood. Have your Elf hold one of the pine cones or you can do some fun tricks with it. When your children wake up, have them hold the pine cone and move it around in their hands as much as possible. This helps them get used to the texture and provides them with sensory input, especially those of you that have sensory seekers in your home.
- Sand (used for play in different colors)
The sand we use at our center is great for helping our students with their sensory and tactile play. We purchased several different colors and bottles so they could mix the sand together and make layers. Feel free to get as many colors as you would like. We laid out the red, green and gold for the holidays. As you can see, our elf is getting into the sand and is creating a little bit of mischief. When your kids find the elf, help them mix the sand together in a bowl, write the letters of their name in the sand, draw pictures with the sand, or bury their fingers and hands in it. We want them to be as hands-on with this activity as possible.
Light and Fluffy
You may wonder why we use scarves at our center for sensory and tactile. The scarves are actually a great way to help your child get used to different textures. They tend to be softer than other objects and you can create a variety of activities with them to help your child. As you can see our elf is buried under them. Many of our sensory seekers love to be buried under objects and even like weighted items, like blankets and pillows. When your child wakes up, let them dance around with the scarves and let them touch the scarves to their cheeks, hands and mouth if they like to chew on items (also a sign of sensory seekers).
In addition, have your child throw the scarves in the air and have them watch the scarf fall back into their hands. This may seem like a simple task to some, but to many of our students they have a tough time throwing it in the air, watching it fall, and catching it again in their hands. This could be a sign of poor hand-eye coordination and low muscle tone. This will help improve their abilities so they can use those skills in the classroom.
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