Poke, squish, swish, sift, knead, crinkle, crumble: all of these are ways in which your toddler learns about the world around her through the sense of touch. Sensory play is important, notes PBS Parents, because it develops motor skills and lays the foundation for language development and a basic understanding of how things work. And, it's a whole lot of fun for your toddler and sometimes relaxing, too! What child -- or adult -- doesn't want to take a nap after a productive round of squishing goo? Be sure, of course, that said goo and other materials used in "touch and feel" activities are nontoxic for your toddler, and their use is well-supervised.
Few sources are better for tactile intrigue than nature itself. As a bonus, these all-natural items can often be found for free. With your toddler's safety in mind, gather items lacking in overly sharp, splintery edges and other hazards, such as pinecones, sticks, acorns, "helicopter" seeds, small rocks and shells. Place the items in a container for your toddler to sift through and examine. If needed, demonstrate picking up and handling each item, noting the texture and other features of each.
In the Clouds
Reach for the sky and pluck out a cloud for your toddler to explore. Or, if that seems impractical, combine flour and vegetable oil to create "cloud dough." On a large, contained surface, such as a cookie tray, pour eight parts of flour and one part oil. Together with your toddler, hand-mix the ingredients until a soft, pliable dough is formed. Allow your child to knead, mold, build and otherwise explore this fantastic substance before her.
Break out the craft supplies to create "touch" cards for your toddler. Note that you will make these cards at least a day in advance of playtime so the cards can set. Choose a theme such as the alphabet or numbers and gather toddler-friendly craft items such as buttons, pipe cleaner pieces, googly eyes, pom-poms, feathers and dried pasta. Cut cardboard or card stock to the desired size for your cards and arrange on each your chosen pattern of materials. Glue the materials into place using nontoxic school glue and allow the cards to dry overnight. Lay the cards out for your toddler on the table or floor for him to explore.
Take the element of tactile discovery to another level for your toddler by restricting his sense of sight. Fill a cloth, drawstring bag with various toddler-friendly objects such as toy cars, play vegetables, wooden shapes, or soft or scratchy fabric scraps. Allow an opening in the bag large enough for your toddler's hand to comfortably reach into the bag and search through, exploring the size, shape, texture and overall feel of each "mystery" object.