Tactile Discrimination Activities for Pre-Writing Skills for Preschoolers

Tactile discrimination is the ability to use the touch information from the fingers and hand to identify an object without seeing it.  The brain uses this touch information to know which fingers are holding onto the pencil.  In addition to the the information from the touch preceptors of the fingers, it also gets information from the proprioceptors.  These are the tiny receptors in the muscles and joints which tell the brain the position of the fingers and if they are bent or straight.  It also gets some information from the visual system.  Using this combined information, it can send messages back to the finger muscles on how to move.  This is why tactile perceptual activities must be included in pre-writing activities for preschoolers.  We will look more at tactile discrimination as well as at tactile discrimination activities.

Salt dough fossils and sea animals to use for developing tactile discrimination. This is an important aspect of pre-writing skills for preschoolers. Accompanying a post about tactile perception activities by Bunty McDougall from The Happy Handwriter.

The brain cannot send messages to the finger muscles on how to move if it doesn’t have information on which fingers are holding the pencil.  Sometimes this information is sluggish and slow to be relayed.  This means the brain doesn’t get as much information as it wants.  So, it tries to get it in different ways.

Handwriting is a visually directed task.  Our children do need to be able to see the lines on the page in order to orient their letters on them.  But we do not want them using visual information to compensate for a lack of tactile information.  Some children over-rely on the information from their visual systems.  We always want the physical process of writing to be as automatic as possible.  We don’t want extra mental energy being used up by looking at the fingers to send messages to the brain.

Tactile perception, tight pencil grasp and pressing hard

Another way children provide the brain with additional information is by holding on really rightly onto their pencils.  Tight pencil grasps is often linked to a child trying to compensate for a lack of stability that arises from low muscle tone.  But, it can also stem from poor tactile perception.  Holding tighter sends more information to the brain.  Children with poor tactile perception press really hard when they are writing.  Again, this can be linked to poor muscle tone, but this is not the only reason children press really hard.  Pressing harder sends more information to the brain so it can, in turn, send information to the finger muscles.  Some children press so hard that they frequently break their pencils.

The brain uses different types of sensory information to enable it to send messages to the finger muscles on how to move.  We can develop this by exposing our children to sensory rich tactile discrimination activities.

Tactile discrimination activities

By exposing our children to sensory play we can develop the generalised touch feedback from the hand and fingers to the brain.  It needs to be part of our programmes for pre-writing skills for preschoolers.

The traditional shaving foam, sensory trays and messy play are fantastic.  Vibrating toys and vibrating squiggle pens are also great for enhancing tactile discrimination.  In addition to this, we can also add in tactile discrimination activities.

One aspect of tactile discrimination is called stereognosis.  It is also known as haptic perception.  Stereognosis is the ability to perceive and identify what an object is by using touch alone.  Exposing our children to these activities can develop their tactile perceptual abilities.  This enhanced tactile discrimination will assist in providing the foundations for pre-writing activities for pre-schoolers.

Any activity that requires our children to identify objects without using their vision will require them to use this tactile discrimination.

Implementing tactile discrimination activities with your child

There are those cool little eye covers you can get on aeroplanes to cover the child’s eyes.  These can be used for tactile discrimination activities in children.  But I have found over the years that many children don’t enjoy the feeling of the eye cover.  And if they do, they can very easily peep and use vision in place of touch discrimination.  So, I prefer freely boxes and freely bags for my pre-writing skills for preschoolers.

The Dad Lab came up with this huge feely box and and I rather liked that he used a t shirt to cover it!  It is rather big though!

If you are looking for something more compact and easy to store, you can use a freely bag.

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People have long used salt dough to make animal fossil activities.  We are going to up the demands of this by placing the sea animals in a freely bag and requiring the child to find the one in the bag that matches the fossil.

When children are just starting out

  1. Use only a few sea animals.
  2. Choose those with the greatest structural differences so your child is able to be successful when they are beginning.
  3. Let your child feel the shape in the fossil and discuss the features they will be looking for.
  4. To up grade this you can increase the number of sea animals, as well as ones that have more similar shapes and features.

I also made some dinosaur fossils for those who are very in to them!

This dinosaur tactile discrimination and its link to pre-writing skills for preschoolers is discussed in this blog post by Bunty McDougall on The Happy Handwriter's fine motor and handwriting blog.

Making your salt dough tactile perception fossils

  1. Download your recipe below and make the dough.
  2. Sprinkle flour on your baking sheet so they don’t stick.
  3. Roll a ball and flatten it in the palm of your hand.
  4. Cover the animal in flour so it doesn’t stick when you make an imprint.
  5. Dust your fossils off when they have cooked.  I blew into them to get the excess flour out.

Using a feely bag for tactile perception activities

These tactile activities for kindergarten and are discussed in this blog post. Place your objects in a feely bag and develop tactile discrimination activities for pre-writing activities.
  1. You can download our simple feely bag pattern.  I have made countless numbers of feely bags over the years.  I have used half-size copy paper boxes, and any fun bag I could lay my hands on.  This is a simple oval one which will do the trick.
  2. You will need two sets of the same animals: one for in the bag and one as a cue.
  3. Select an animal and feel it, noting its features.
  4. Place both hands in the feely bag and work systematically through the animals to identify the matching animal.  Take it out and put it with its matching friend.
  5. Once your child has mastered this, you can upgrade by supplying pictures of the animal.  It always best to start with another of the same so they can get an idea of what it feels like, and not only what it looks like.

In closing about tactile discrimination and pre-writing skills for preschoolers

Tactile perception is one of the important foundational pre-writing skills for preschoolers.  Children who press really hard or hold tightly onto their pencils may have poor tactile perceptual skills.  There are so many fun activities you can include in your programme that will develop your child’s skills.  And they are such fun!

©Bunty McDougall
Occupational Therapist

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