The Value of Exploration

Exploring an object by shaking, banging, throwing, touching, or mouthing is one of the first steps in learning the properties of an object and its use. For a child who is blind or low vision with motor impairments that limit their ability to explore items, caregivers can help provide opportunities to teach and practice exploration skills to promote communication and literacy. 

Exploration builds sensory efficiency, object perception, concept development, understanding of cause and effect, and social interaction skills when done with a partner. It is a critical component for future learning and development. 

Active Exploration

Showing a child a bright and colorful object can establish visual attention, and playing music can be entertaining. Still, exploration creates meaning by pairing these events with a tactile experience they can call to mind later. 

Tactual information is best gained when the child explores actively rather than when someone else moves an object over their skin or manipulates their hands to investigate an object. When children initiate the movement on their own (even if they need help completing the movement due to motor limitations), they are activating many areas of the brain, leading to more learning and memory of these sensory experiences (Kolb & Whishaw, 2021; Deecke, 1996). 

Hand-under-hand support is widely recognized as the best way to help a child learn to explore since it offers the opportunity for active touch. It allows the caregiver to feel the child’s movement, even if minimal. The caregiver places their hand under the child’s hand so the child can still feel the object. 

Exploration Schemes 

Exploration schemes are actions to obtain information about an object’s different sensory qualities. Each strategy gains unique information about an object. Caregivers can help expand a child’s exploration schemes through modeling, exposure, and practice to build a greater repertoire to explore objects in the world around them. 

The exploration schemes include (Gibson & Pick, 2000): 

• Mouthing 

• Scratching 

• Raking 

• Grasping 

• Banging 

• Shaking 

• Dropping 

• Throwing 

• Pulling out 

• Putting in 

• Pulling apart 

• Putting together 

Exploration Procedures 

Exploration procedures are specific strategies for tactual exploration. Tactile exploration is needed for early object recognition and is accomplished with hands, mouth, or feet. These are important sensory efficiency skills promoting pre-braille and early literacy foundations. Caregivers can notice, model, and offer opportunities to explore the tactile qualities of objects and textures (Smith & Chambers, 2023). 

The exploration procedures include (Klatzky & Lederman, 2008): 

• Lateral motion (moving side to side) to identify texture 

• Pressure (pushing down on an object) to identify density/hardness 

• Static contact (holding still on an object) to identify temperature 

• Unsupported holding to identify weight 

• Enclosure (holding an object inside the hand) to identify shape/volume 

• Contour following (following along the outer edges of the object) to identify an exact shape 

Positioning During Exploration

Exploration can take a lot of effort and exertion for someone with multiple disabilities. Caregivers can consider the best positioning during exploration to promote the use of vision and touch. Positioning can also greatly impact alertness and mobility. Some explore most easily while seated in a chair, in a side-lying position on the floor, or lying on their stomach or back. Collaboration with physical and occupational therapists may help determine the best position for exploration and any physical accommodations or supports that may help them fully participate.

Caregivers can also consider what body part the child can use to explore best. A child may wish to use one or both hands, one or both feet, their mouth, or their cheek. The caregiver can present the object close to this body part to encourage exploration. 

Types of Objects to Explore 

It is important for a child who is blind or low vision with multiple impairments to explore a variety of objects. Consider novel objects, real objects from home, and objects with unique sensory qualities to expose your child to items beyond the everyday plastic commercialized toys. 

Most importantly, caregivers can seek out objects that are motivating to explore. For example, focusing on textures or sounds that your child enjoys can significantly maintain their attention and boost exploration. In fact, if your child is drawn to objects that produce quirky sounds, possess captivating textures, or create music, it’s beneficial to seek out similar items. This strategy not only keeps their interest but also encourages further exploration. Additionally, it’s important to be aware of any objects that negatively impact your child, causing discomfort or disengagement. Avoiding these in future activities will enhance your child’s learning experience

Visual Accommodations and Exploration 

Combining vision and touch is important for concept development and object recognition. Consider what visual accommodations may be needed to promote vision use during exploration. Ideas include: 

• Offer high contrast by using a black mat on the wheelchair tray to. 

• Reduce background clutter by working in front of a solid-colored wall. 

• Be aware of noises and conversations and try to reduce then to allow your child to focus. 

• Consider the lighting in the room. Your child may benefit from reducing the overhead lights and spotlighting the object they are exploring. 

• You may add brightly colored tape or another visual target to the object to promote the use of vision during exploration. 

Ways to Practice Exploration 

• To effectively demonstrate how to explore an object, one can engage in a visual or tactile examination. To facilitate this, it’s beneficial to employ hand-under-hand guidance for tactual modeling. This technique enables the child to ‘observe’ and understand the movements before attempting them independently (Smith & Chambers, 2023).

• Give wait time and look for signs the child is initiating exploration. If their fingers move slightly to squeeze the ball, help them finish that action with hand-under-hand support. 

• Consider an exploration area where your child can practice exploration independently with many safe toys within reach. 

• Consider incorporating objects to explore as part of a story routine. Read the story and practice different exploration schemes and procedures as you explore objects from the story together. 

• Consider incorporating an exploration routine to help teach your child using familiar, preferred techniques. An activity becomes a routine when you use a clear beginning and end and predictable steps in between. For an example of a “play” routine to promote exploration, watch Adam’s routine HERE


Deecke, L. (1996). Functional significance of cerebral potentials preceding voluntary movement. In Proceedings of the fourth international congress on event-related slow potential of the brain (pp. 343-356). The Office.

Gibson, E.J., & Pick, A.D. (2000). Perceptual learning and development: An ecological approach to perceptual learning and development. Oxford University Press. 

Klatzky, R., & Lederman, S., (2008). Object recognition by touch. In J.J. Rieser, D. H. Ashmead, F.F. Ebner, & A. L. Corn (Eds), Blindness and brain plasticity in navigation and object perception (pp.185-207). Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers. 

Kolb, B. & Whishaw, I.Q. (2021). Fundamentals of human neuropsychology (8th ed.). Worth Publishers.

Smith, M. & Chambers, S. (2023). Sensing and learning: Guidebook, assessment forms, and routines. American Printing House for the Blind.