All of us in the early years work with Touch, most often focusing on the hands. Probably with great fine motor skills in mind, but also building verbal language about the world we live in - it's sharp, it's soft, it’s hard.
Of course we don’t just encounter the world through the touch of our hands, but through our whole body and we start to unpack this in Developmental Movement Play courses as we look at sensory development.
Our skin is the sense organ at work here. It is what we touch with, and the thing that receives the touch of the world. In fact our skin is the largest and most constantly active sense organ we have, with more variety of sensation than anything else in the body.
Pressure, vibration, hot, cold, itches, pains and pleasures. Even when we are asleep, our skin remains on alert to monitor abnormal sensations. (If we wake suddenly in the night, it is probably our skin that has created the messages that cause us to wake.)
Here’s a data check.
A piece of skin the size of a 10p piece contains more than:
3 million cells
100 to 340 sweat glands
50 nerve endings
3 feet of blood vessels
And then, distributed across the whole of our skin, there are over half a million sensors, which process different kinds of touch. This is a complicated business - touch is a coverall term that rounds up lots of different kinds of sensation.
Introducing eight (spectacular named) sense receptors located in your skin:
Closest to the skin’s surface are Meissner’s corpuscles. Located mostly in the lips and finger endings they are super sensitive to very light touch. They especially sense moving objects sliding past the skin - essential to help us to maintain grip amongst other things. Next time you, or a child in your care, drops something - it may be that the Meissner’s corpuscles haven’t quite grasped the information they needed to help out. Whilst these receptors are good at tracking moving touch, if it is constant and unmoving, they may will ‘lose’ the object
So we also have Expanded Tip Tactile Receptors (prize for longest name), to fill the gap. These sense something that remains stationary on our skin.
Merkel’s Disks (sounds like a vinyl record shop) give us information about temperature and texture. They are also very involved in sending pain messages
Ruffini end organs (favourite name) are sensors in the deeper layers of our skin and they detect pressure - like the waistband of your trousers, the tight grip of your shoes, or a bear hug. They also sense stretching of the skin and temperature as well.
If you use a Gaming Controller with vibration feedback, (or if you put your hand on the dishwasher to check if it is still going), your Pacinian corpuscles will be busy detecting those vibrations.
Krause End Bulb (new species of tulip?) only activate if we touch something below 20 degrees, so very much about very cold temperature
Free nerve endings are found all over the body and sense light touch of many sorts - pressure, pain, temperature, texture - and it is thought that they are majorly involved in creating pain signals by reacting strongly to the chemicals released when cells are damaged
Now add to all of those, that every hair on our body has a hair end organ, registering the slightest movement of that hair and telling us, therefore, about the touch that has almost reached our body, or is just about to
The important thing to notice here, amongst all the detail, is that our sense of touch is a multi-faceted and complex thing. So its development is complex too.
And yet we pretty much take it for granted.
Sound development of our touch sense means we will be able to interpret and give meaning to all the different kinds of touch that we create or receive. Our sense of touch, more than any other sense, gives us our sense of reality. Our sense of ourselves in the world.
So, just as we need lots of practice and support to get to grips with the complexity of language and all that it does for us, so we also deserve lots of practice and support to build out touch sense, so that we will feel supremely comfortable in our own skin. This is a major foundation for lifelong wellbeing.
What could be more important?