Our tactile system (or the sense of touch), provides us with direct access to the physical world around us. It is the first of our senses to develop - we actually begin receiving tactile signals before birth, as the vibration of our mother's heartbeat is amplified by amniotic fluid.⠀
Skin-to-skin touch is promoted from the moment a child is born. For the baby, touch stimulates growth-promoting hormones, and helps to regulate their temperature, heart rate and sleep/wake patterns. Studies have found that babies who receive nurturing touch gain weight faster, nurse better, cry less, and have better intellectual and motor development. A mother's touch has even been found to alleviate pain when infants are given a blood test. ⠀
Touch also enhances attachment between parent and child. Attachment is important as it allows children a sense of security, and a safe place from which they can explore and learn. It is vital for stress regulation, adaptability, and resilience.⠀⠀
Then there is the active use of touch for seeking out and acquiring information. Touch in this respect allows us to discriminate and recognise objects by handling them. As vision and motor skills develop, a typical baby begins to utilise strategies for exploring objects with their hands. Babies learn through reaching, grasping, banging, dropping, putting together and pulling apart. They learn to discriminate between different properties, such as hot/cold, smooth/rough, light/heavy, big/small. ⠀
As they grow, touch continues to be vital for the development of the child’s fine motor and gross motor skills. The tactile
system being the most primitive is also why many toddlers and preschoolers first learn through colouring, painting, drawing, and hands-on play, before higher order skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, reading and writing.