When I was a child, I liked fluff. I remember staying in a hotel one night and having an incredibly fluffy blanket. I kept pulling off bits of wool all night and in the morning I had a great big fluffy ball. I remember my family a little bemused as to why I would do this!
We get more cautious about touching things as we get older. We become more aware of the physical risks and social risks of poking and touching what is not ours.
In my early-twenties I worked as a support worker. Much of this involved personal care, and I developed an allergy to many household products, and especially the powder in the gloves designed to protect! If I handled tomatoes or potatoes, my hands would become red raw and itchy. I remember working nights once, and bathing my hands in cold water, crying, because it was so hard to resist the urge to scratch them until they bled.
For several years afterwards I was afraid to touch things.
I couldn’t mix any food ingredients with my hands. Joining in with my children whilst they played with sand, cornflour paste, finger-painting, or popping bubbles came with the risk of a flare-up. Touching animal fur was often painful. It is surprising how not being able to touch things, squeeze things, mould things and stroke things restricts your playfulness!
Gradually, my hands have calmed down. They have learnt to trust the world again. I wear gloves in the garden, but no longer have to wear cotton gloves at night or under my gardening gloves (even the seams on the inside of the gloves would set my hands off at one point!) Occasionally I forget to put gloves on. The insides of my fingers will tingle a bit when I hold a bunch of flower stems. If I resist the urge to itch for 10 minutes then it calms down. I can touch things freely with my finger tips, and I can let things brush past the backs of my hands. Soft textures are fine.
There are no more tears at bedtime!
I never take my sense of touch for granted. Now that I can sweep my hands through swishy grass seed, I do. I try to do it with my full awareness and appreciation. I think having eczema has, weirdly, enhanced my enjoyment of touch.
We don’t just enjoy texture with our sense of touch. It involves our eyes and ears. As adults, we can imagine what something feels like just by looking, because we have a bank of previous experiences. Children don’t, which is probably why they do have to touch something in order to see it properly. They want to experience the world in all its multi-sensory glory.
Children are naturally brilliant at looking closely, looking at things from a different angle.
They incorporate their other senses beautifully, exploring movement and balance and how they feel against different parts of their bodies. They waggle stems. They take things apart. They collect things. They weave them together.
Children don’t have prior knowledge, so are more creative in their thinking. I remember my daughter telling me that fingernails and teeth are made of plastic. And the more you look, the more you see that natural materials resemble man-made materials.
Flower textures often remind me of fabric textures: silk, satin, velvet, crepe.
Stems and calyces might look woolly or metallic or papery.
There might be bobbles, or fringes, or dangly bits or bouncy cushions. They are asking for us to play with them.
We can enhance our pleasure in everyday life by tuning into our senses like this. Rather than taking touch for granted, we can indulge ourselves by concentrating on the feel of something. We are born into an incredible three-dimensional world that is there for us to explore.
What are your favourite textures? I would love to hear from readers who know their fabrics! Are there any textures that give you the icks? Mine are anything sticky, like the stems of Nicotiana or Erodium.
If you are struggling to get children away from screens this summer, take them into the garden, a park, a woodland, the beach. Being outdoors stimulates natural curiosity. Let them get dirty. Let them try things out. Let them poke, peel and shred. Warn them about the obvious dangers, and help them learn to assess and manage risk. Being within shouting distance is often more fun than being right in front of you. Play too. You never know what you might discover!
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