Sense of Touch Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Rachel Torrens

Rachel is a Nurse Practitioner with experience working as a high school teacher, skin surgery center, and as a family NP.

Your skin can transmit an amazing amount of information to your brain through the sense of touch. In this lesson, learn about the receptors and pathways that let your body process many types of touch.

Touch: A Complicated Sense

When you are a baby, everything is new: the carpet you crawl on, the bird you see and hear through the window, the strawberry yogurt you sniff and lick. And your five senses (touch, sight, hearing, smell, and taste) are the means through which your brain processes new things, which helps you discover the world. But it's not just when you are a baby that your senses are being used, but rather, almost every minute of every day!

In this lesson, we will explore the sense of touch. Your sense of touch is one of the most complicated senses. How so? Well, there are many types of touch. For example, place your hand on any flat surface around you. Did you do it? How do you know? Because your brain tells you that your hand has made contact with the surface through the sense of touch.

But, your sense of touch can tell you so much more than just if you made contact. For example, is the surface you are touching rough or smooth? Is it hot or cold? Is it dry or wet? Is it still or vibrating? Your body is able to sense pressure, vibration, temperature, and pain. You probably didn't realize how much information is passed to your brain through the sense of touch!

How does the Sense of Touch Work?

In order to process so many different bits of information, the skin comes equipped with millions of sensory nerve receptors. There are several types of sensory nerve receptors. Some receptors tell the difference between hot and cold; others sense an itch or a pain. For this reason, touch is one of the most complicated senses for researchers to study.

Your skin contains many important structures, like blood vessels, glands, and sensory nerve receptors. These receptors transmit what is felt on the skin up to the brain!
Diagram of the structure of skin

Once the sensory nerve receptors have picked up on a specific type of touch, this message is passed to a neuron, or nerve cell. The neuron passes the message to more neurons along a specific pathway. Different types of touch travel along different pathways. Pain has its own pathway. Temperature has its own pathway. Basic touch has its own pathway. But eventually, all pathways lead to the brain where the message is sent.

Not All Parts are Equal

The sensory nerve receptors are nestled in your skin alongside various glands and blood vessels. In one square centimeter of skin on your fingertip, there are approximately 2,500 sensory nerve receptors! So, a key on a computer keyboard is about one square centimeter. Imagine in that small space, over two thousand nerve receptors are at work!

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