“What if I told you that nature is always speaking to us? What if I said that we all have deep conversations with nature? And, what if I said that it is in childhood that we most fluently communicate with nature?” asks Jena Ponti Jauchius in the article at the heart of our newest Exchange Reflections, “Supporting Our Seven Senses through Nature Play.”
Ponti Jauchius states, “Play, children’s primary activity, is one complex, sustained multi-sensory experience. The more types of sensory experiences, with varying degrees of intensity, the more information children’s bodies process, and the more developed their systems become. It is important for kids to be able to seek out various types of sensory experiences of varying intensities, as they are all ‘wired’ a little differently and need different types and intensities of sensory input.”
Remarking on our sense of touch, Ponti Jauchius writes, “As our largest organ, our skin provides our brain with a mountain of tactile information from a variety of sensory receptors. Each of our fingertips has around 3,000 touch receptors! Things within a nature play space can be smooth, rough, soft, hard, squishy, sharp, hot, warm, cold, wet, dry, sticky, and slimy. The skin also communicates sensations such as itchiness, tickling, vibration, and pressure. “
For tactile input, she recommends “gardening, water and sand play, molding soil, loose parts play, imaginative play at a mud kitchen, and many others,” adding, “Children experience a range of tactile experiences when they grow their own food—preparing the garden and soil, planting seeds, watering, food production, harvesting, and cooking.”
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I'm right there with you, Francis. Have you heard of 'grounding' or 'earthing?' or the research on the positive impact of microbes in healthy soils? Feet and toes are made for curling and grabbing, essential to balance. (An aside: I sold kids' shoes for a summer and it was remarkable to see how many new walkers would be fitted with a 'solid stable' shoe only to trip and fall. The shoes actually impeded muscle development in the foot).
Maybe now is a good time to launch a campaign to encourage young children to go barefoot! If this article is correct, then sensory experiences through the feet are essential! I was lucky that for most of my childhood I was allowed to go barefoot - even on gravel! I realize this is a revolutionary idea, especially given health and licensing standards, but I think it's worth a shot!