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What Kids Learn

The sense of touch keeps us in touch with our world, literally! But how does touch work, exactly?

Our skin has built-in touch receptors. They help us identify objects by feel. But the skin has more touch receptors in some areas of the body than in others.

The parts of our body that have more touch receptors (like fingertips) are more sensitive than those that don't have as many (like the back or shoulders). The first two experiments help kids discover this for themselves.

The third experiment shows kids an example of how senses work together to help us identify things and make sense of the world around us. This experiment shows kids how it can sometimes be harder to identify things based only on one sense — in this case, the sense of touch. When we can see, hear, or smell something as well as touch it, it's a lot easier to know what it is!

As with any game, it's a good idea to let parents know what you plan to do before you try these experiments. That's especially true if kids have allergies. Don't do these experiments with anything the child might be allergic to — like peanuts if the child has a nut allergy.

Experiments 1 and 2: Touch Receptors

What You Need for Experiment 1

  • A paperclip

What to Do

  1. Unbend the paperclip and straighten it out.
  2. Form it into a skinny letter "U."
  3. Ask the kid to close his or her eyes.
  4. Gently press the two points of the "U" on different parts of the child's skin.
  5. Ask the kid how many points he or she feels. Try the forehead, the cheek, the inside of the arm, the back, the calf of the leg. Where does the child feel both? Where does he or she feel only one — even though there are two?

This experiment shows that, if touch receptors are far apart (like on the leg, for example), you might not feel everything that's in contact with your skin. Someone could touch you in two spots, but you only feel it in one.

What You Need for Experiment 2

  • Blindfold
  • Tennis ball, rock, sponge, pine cone, seashell, eraser, marble, etc.

What to Do 

  1. Have the child close wear the blindfold or close his or her eyes.
  2. Gently press each item against the skin on different areas of the child's body.
  3. Can he or she identify the object? Is it easier in areas that are more sensitive, like the fingers or foot?

Here are lists of the most-sensitive and least-sensitive parts of the body:

More sensitive 

  • Fingers
  • Upper lip 
  • Cheek
  • Palm
  • Forehead
  • Foot

Less sensitive

  • Belly
  • Upper arm
  • Back
  • Shoulder
  • Thigh 
  • Calf

Experiment 3: Brain Box

What You Need

  • A medium-sized cardboard box or a pillowcase
  • Scissors
  • One long gym sock
  • Items to fill the box or pillowcase (for example, cup, spoon, ball, block, fruit, sponge, rock, a small bell, cotton ball, pine cone, feather, wood letters or numbers)

What to Do 

  1. If using the pillowcase, put all objects in the case.
  2. If using the box, cut a holes in two different sides. The hole should be big enough for the child's hand to fit into.
  3. Use strong tape to attach a long gym sock over one hole, so the child can put his or her hand in the sock and reach into the box. Leave the other hole open.
  4. Add items to the box.
  5. Have the kid reach into the pillowcase or box and try to identify objects. If you're using a pillowcase, players can wear a sock on their hand.
  6. See how many items the kid can identify while wearing the sock on one hand to impair his or her sense of touch. See if the child can figure out more items when reaching directly into the box through the open hole.
  7. Let the kid see what was inside the box. See how easy it is now when all senses are restored!

Reviewed by: Eric H. Chudler, PhD
Date reviewed: June 2008

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