Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Make Your Own Early Literacy Toy: Texture Blanket, from guest blogger Stephanie Smallwood

One of my favorite takeaways from the Missouri Library Association Conference in October was the idea of a sensory blanket, which Stephanie Smallwood--Early Literacy Specialist at Springfield-Greene County Library District--shared in her session focused on outreach. I asked Stephanie to elaborate on her texture blanket, and she graciously agreed to share details in the form of this guest post.


"What should I do with my baby?"

Families are always happy to learn that the best thing they can do with their littlest ones is talk to them. We know that talking to babies not only builds vocabulary and background knowledge, but also that all-important caregiver-child bond that is so important for all aspects of development. But sometimes we just don't know what to say to those little guys! Especially during the first few months, it can be difficult for new parents to know what to say to their child, so it helps to give them a conversation-starter so to speak.  We do that when we tell adults to talk about what they are doing or to describe everything they see, but there are certain things that babies are particularly drawn to. One of these things is textures.

A newborn is very sensitive to touch, and that sense stays strong throughout the baby years. This is good for adults, because there are lots of words to use to describe textures. We can use a variety to describe how they feel (fluffy, scratchy, rough, smooth), and we can compare and contrast familiar textures ("This denim feels just like Daddy's pants," "Grandma has a blanket that has satin edges like this."). So textures give us an opportunity to use a copious amount of words, and since baby's sense of touch is so sensitive, they are particularly open to learning at that moment. You know that wide-eyed look babies get on their faces when they are particularly interested in something? That is the most important time to talk. They are focused, interested, and their minds are especially open.

Stephanie's Texture Blanket

I use lots of homemade early literacy activities in my work with families, and one of the most popular is the texture blanket.  It is a basic fleece blanket with several different pieces of fabric sewn on it. Babies love it, toddlers love it, caregivers love it, and every time I use it with a family I get to show them that wide-eyed "That is so cool!" look on their baby's face. It is an excellent tool for modeling those simple interactions that are so important to a baby's development. Here are some points I make with families and babies of different stages.

Newborns: Choose the softest fabrics on the blanket to use with the littlest ones, they will be very sensitive to anything rough. Lightly touch baby's arm or hand with the soft fabric and talk about how it feels. Remember, newborns will be ready to move on in a relatively short time, so no need to overdo it.

Tummy Time Crowd: This blanket is so fantastic for tummy time, I can't fully express it in a post. You really just have to watch a baby doing it. Babies doing tummy time have something to feel and look at while they lay on their tummies. As they start creeping and scooting, they have a goal to reach for and explore. Talk about the different textures they touch.

Sitters/Crawlers: So much to explore! This is when we really start to see curiosity come through with babies. Sitting on a texture blanket gives them a big area to move around in and so many different things to examine. And yes, they will examine it with their mouth, so make sure your fabrics are secure and that babies are monitored.

Walkers: Even those bigger babies will still appreciate the textures. Take off their shoes and let them feel the fabric with their feet. They are beginning to make stronger connections between current experiences and things they have experienced in other situations, so this is a great stage to compare textures.

My texture blanket gets used pretty regularly in my outreach programming, but it would be ideal for baby storytimes or a baby corner in a children's department. Mine has been used monthly for three and a half years and is still in pretty good shape. It gets machine-washed after each use, and I line dry it. One of the great things about the texture blanket is that it is that it is portable--it is super easy to roll it up and take it to any of the locations where I work with families. It's truly a perfect activity!


Picture provided by Stephanie Smallwood.


  1. I am literally getting a sewing machine for Christmas because of this. Thank you for sharing!


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