Developing Tactile & Kinesthetic Discrimination Skills

Instructor: John Hamilton

John has tutored algebra and SAT Prep and has a B.A. degree with a major in psychology and a minor in mathematics from Christopher Newport University.

We often assume that we learn best by seeing and hearing, but touch and movement provide additional opportunities to learn as well. In this lesson we will focus on the development of tactile and kinesthetic skills.

Are you amazed by all the different feelings that can be created by touching various objects and textures? Are you also captivated by the sensations that can be felt through the movements of the human body? In this lesson you will learn how to develop both tactile (feel) discrimination skills and kinesthetic (movement) discrimination skills. Let us review how to develop these abilities.

Developing Skills

We use the ability to touch items at a very early age in life, when we spend time coloring, cutting, and gluing. We also learn to move our bodies and become aware of their capabilities by playing games and participating in activities such as running and jumping. The learning does not end there though. Adults that enroll in activities such as coloring book classes or ballroom dance lessons continue to develop these skills; feeling the crayons between their fingers and their bodies gliding through space.

Tactile Skills

Tactile discrimination is the ability to discern information which involves the sense of touch. Tactile learning tends to incorporate fine motor skills such as writing with a pen. The best way to learn tactile discrimination is to start with large objects and move to smaller ones. For example, a visually impaired student might use the following sequence to learn braille:

  • Large three-dimensional forms such as a ball
  • Large, flat pieces such as a puzzle
  • Medium-sized shapes with raised areas
  • Small shapes with raised lines
  • Braille letters

Do you see why it is usually best to start with large objects and then move to the smaller ones?

Learning Tactile Skills with a Puzzle

However, even if the student is not visually impaired the above sequence of moving from larger objects to smaller objects could be used with some modifications. For example, in the last step, instead of using braille letters the student could attempt to put together a puzzle with much smaller pieces.

Some of the things that tactile learners can differentiate between include:

  • Cold and hot
  • Dry and wet
  • Hard and soft
  • Rough and smooth

The ideal way for tactile learners to improve is through hands-on activities. This has the added benefit of improving the student's motor skills. The activities can include:

  • Building blocks-There are many versions of generic building blocks along with several versions of popular copyrighted games to choose from for the student.
  • Dioramas-These are three-dimensional models
  • Games-Remember that great old game Operation in which you had to remove different bones with a pair of tweezers? If you touched the metal sides of the place where the bone was stored a buzzer would go off and the man's nose would light up.
  • Homemade books-A homemade book involves many different skills including cutting with scissors and pasting with glue.
  • Model building-There are many types of models to be made that allow students to use her hands.

Learning Tactile Skills with Creative Blocks

Kinesthetic Skills

Kinesthetic discrimination is the ability to discern subtle changes that involve muscle feelings and body motions. Kinesthetic learning tends to incorporate the whole body and gross motor skills such as jumping. Proprioception is related to kinesthetics and refers to body positioning, spatial awareness and orientation. This is related to muscle memory, also known as kinesthetic sense, which involves the repetition of tasks to master them. Kinesthetic learners are often those students that cannot stay still.

There are techniques that everyone, especially visually impaired learners, can use to develop their kinesthetic discrimination skills. One is to practice turning with your eyes closed. Practice turning 90 degrees (one quarter of a turn), 180 degrees (one half of a turn), 270 degrees (three quarters of a turn), and finally 360 degrees (one full turn.) You can also do a more advanced version of this and make the turns while walking. In this case it is best to have another person work as a spotter for you. Of course, make sure there are no pets underfoot and that there is nothing nearby that can trip you up. Avoid doing this outdoors near a road.

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