Today I’m introducing a new series under my STEM for Kids all about exploring the five senses: touch, taste, smell, hearing, and sight. I wanted to get back to the basics with my STEM for Kids posts and this seemed like a great way for young kids to discover their bodies while learning STEM concepts. In my Exploring the Five Senses for Babies, Toddlers, and Preschoolers Series we are going to work on helping our young kids discover their five senses. We will also use scientific reasoning to identify objects using only one sense at a time.  

Senses are how the human body observes and interprets the world all around us. There are five different senses: touch (using our skin), taste (using our tongue), smell (using our nose), hearing (using our ears), and sight (using our eyes). For the Exploring the Five Senses for Babies, Toddlers, and Preschoolers Series I’m going to feature one post about each sense and a final post about using all five senses together. 

The first sense I’m featuring in the Exploring the Five Senses for Babies, Toddlers, and Preschoolers Series is Touch. The sense of touch is probably the sense I use most often. The feeling of my clothes against my skin gives me warmth and comfort. One touch from my husband can increase my heart rate. A light touch of my fingertip on a pan will immediately let me know if it’s hot. The feel of sand under my toes and the cool water washing over my feet and ankles is part of the magic of visiting the beach. The feel of my children’s tiny bodies pressed against my chest and their hand wrapped around mine as I rock them to sleep is one of the most magical and precious things in the whole world to me. 

Let’s talk about the Sense of Touch 

The sense of touch is controlled by your body’s somatosensory system. It is a network of nerve endings and touch receptors in the skin that enable us to feel sensations. Touch sensations we feel can include soft, hard, smooth, rough, hot, cold, pressure, pain, tickle, itch, vibration, sticky, slimy, wet, dry, etc. 

The somatosensory systems has four types of receptors: Mechanoreceptors (interpret sensations such as pressure, vibrations and texture), Thermoreceptors (interpret sensations related to temperature, such as hot or cold), Nocireceptors (interpret sensations that can be harmful or painful, such as a cut, burn, sting, poisoning, etc), and Propriceptors (interpret sensations of your own body parts in relation to each other and the environment – it helps you feed yourself, dress, etc). 

Most importantly, we interpret the touch sensations from the somatosensory system due to neurons transmitting signals to our brains. Our brain gets the touch signals and it is able to interpret what to do with what we feel. For example, when you touch a hot object, the signal will be sent to your brain, and the brain will quickly send a message back to your hand to stop touching the hot object. Your brain’s interpretation of touch is also why a hug from a friend is comforting and hug from a stranger can be uncomfortable even though the actual touch may be the same. 

For more detailed information about your sense of touch, explained in an easy to understand way, I highly recommend checking out “Sense of Touch” on the Home Science Tools website (https://learning-center.homesciencetools.com/article/skin-touch/). This site informed much of the background information and inspired the experiments featured in today’s post. 

Below you will find 3 experiments. The first experiment, Feeling Pressure, requires nothing but your fingers can be done with babies, toddlers and preschoolers. The second experiment, Is it Hot or Cold?, is a simple way to learn that temperature is interpreted though our sense of touch. It is great for toddlers and preschoolers. The third experiment, Identifying and Describing Objects using Touch, is great for babies, toddlers and preschoolers. I hope you will read on and try a few of these experiments with your kids today.

 


Feeling Pressure

This experiment your children will learn how different parts of their body interpret touch differently. You will touch objects to different parts of their body using the same pressure and see if they feel it differently. This is a fun experiment for kids of all ages who enjoy touch interactions.

Materials needed:

  • Blindfold (optional)
  • Your fingertips

Safety:

Be careful to touch gently and make sure your nails are not sharp prior to beginning this experiment. If your child is uncomfortable with a blindfold on you can ask them to close their eyes instead, or do the experiment with eyes open.

Procedure:

  1. Blindfold your child or ask them to close their eyes. (optional)

    He may or may not be peeking…

  2. Using a very light touch tap your child in the following places:
    1. forehead
    2. nose
    3. lips
    4. check
    5. ear
    6. neck
    7. collarbone
    8. arm
    9. finger tip
    10. palm
    11. back of hand
    12. inside of wrist
    13. stomach
    14. back
    15. leg
    16. top of foot
    17. sole of foot
    18. toes
      For babies and young toddlers – identify each body part out loud as you touch it to help them learn their body parts
      For toddlers and preschoolers – ask them to identify the body part as you touch it
  3. Ask your child where they felt the sensation the strongest and weakest.
  4. Repeat steps 2-3 with tickling! Where on their body are they most ticklish?

What Happened:

Your child discovered how well their mechanoreceptors work. They were able to feel pressure and tickle sensations throughout their body and determine where it is felt strongest (probably fingertips or lips) and weakest (probably back or legs). They also practiced identifying their body parts.

 


Is it Hot or Cold?

This experiment will help kids discover that the sensations of hot and cold are determined solely by touch. They will feel objects to identify if they are hot, cold, or room temperature. This is a fun experiment for kids ages 18 months+ who know the difference between hot and cold.

Materials needed:

  • blindfold (optional)
  • bag of frozen veggies
  • a hand towel warmed in the dryer
  • a bag of beans or pasta

Safety:

Be careful that the warm item is not too hot to touch that it can cause burns. Also, frozen items can also burn the skin through prolonged contact, so don’t let your children handle the frozen item for too long. If your child is uncomfortable with a blindfold on you can ask them to close their eyes instead, or do the experiment with eyes open.

Procedure:

  1. Blindfold your child or ask them to close their eyes. (optional)
  2. Hand the bag of frozen veggies to your child.

    My kids were thrilled to unexpectedly touch the cold bag of frozen peas!

  3. Observe their immediate reaction and ask them how it feels (hot, cold, or neutral)?
  4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 with the warm hand towel and the bag of beans.

    My kids used the warm towel as a blanket

  5. Remove the blindfold (if used) and discuss how we interpret temperature of an object though our sense of touch.

What Happened:

Your child discovered how well their thermoreceptors work. They were able to feel and interpret cold and hot sensations. How did they react to the cold and hot? Did their brains tell them to hold on to the object or drop it?

 


Identifying and Describing Objects using Touch

This experiment will help kids discover how powerful their sense of touch can be. They will identify different objects using the sense of touch alone. They will also practice using descriptive words to describe the object’s feel. This is a fun experiment for kids of all ages: babies and young toddlers will like to touch the objects, and older toddlers and preschoolers are challenged by being asked to describe and guess the identity of the object. 

Materials needed:

  • blindfold (optional)
  • Pick 5 or 6 different objects, some suggestions are:
    • soft plush toy 
    • polished rock
    • rough shell or rock
    • sticky tape
    • slime or play-dough
    • paper
    • crayon
    • fruit 

Safety:

Chose items that are safe for the kids to handle (avoiding rocks with sharp, jagged edges, etc). If your child is uncomfortable with a blindfold on you can ask them to close their eyes instead, or do the experiment with eyes open.

Procedure:

  1. Blindfold your child or ask them to close their eyes. (optional)

    Closing his eyes worked a lot better for my son than the blindfold

  2. Hand your child the first item. 
  3. Instruct your child to feel the object carefully with their fingers first, then they can also touching it with the palm of their hand, rub it on their cheeks, arms, back, feet, etc. Ask if their touch feels stronger in their fingers than other areas of their body? 
  4. Ask them to describe the object to you: is it soft, hard, rough, smooth, sticky, thin, thick, wet, slimy, dry, big, small, cold, hot, etc.? Ask them to use as many words to describe the object as possible. For example, a polished rock could be described as: hard, smooth, heavy, cold, and small. *For babies and young toddlers see my tips below.
  5. Ask your child to guess the identity of the item. 
  6. Remove the blind fold or have them open their eyes to see if their guess was correct.
  7. If guess was correct, congratulate your child! If their guess was not correct congratulate their effort, and then discuss why they guessed what they did and what the differences are between what the item actually is and what they guessed it was. Make sure this is done in a positive and learning way. For example if for the plush toy they guessed Mickey Mouse stuffed animal, but it was actually Simba stuffed animal, you’d say: “Great job on identifying it was a stuffed animal though touch! You were correct that it is a stuffed animal and your Mickey toy is the same size as Simba. The difference between them is Simba has a furry mane around his head and Mickey has much larger ears. You did a great job guessing!” 
  8. Blindfold your child again and move on to the next item, repeating steps 3-7. 

    “It’s smooth, hard, heavy…”

*Tips for babies and young toddlers: Don’t worry about the blindfold (unless they like it). Hand them the objects and then you can help describe to them what they are likely feeling. You can say, “This stuffed animal is soft, squishy, large, and warm.” This is helping your child learn the descriptive words associated with what they are feeling though their sense of touch.

What Happened:

Your child discovered the power of their sense of touch. They were able to describe and identify an item based on feel alone. They likely used all of their somatosensory system receptors in combination for this activity. Your child also practiced using descriptive words to describe the object’s feel. 

 


My kids really enjoyed learning about their sense of touch, and I’m looking forward to teaching them about the other four senses through this series. I hope you’ll follow along with my Exploring the Five Senses for Babies, Toddlers, and Preschoolers Series as we learn about the five senses together with our kids. 

Have you started teaching your kids about their senses? What is your favorite sense? 

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