The Texture Of Things

Where the Beans Have Led

October 29th, 2006

There are some observations about the tot’s perception of textures and need for order that I want to document here.

The first time the tot saw the beans, they were about 8 inches deep in a roughly 15-gallon capacity bin. The beans were rather beautiful, if I may say. Black beans, small white beans, large white lima beans, red kidney beans, pinto beans, and black-eyed peas. Lots of visual contrast. The important point, though, did not reveal itself until we began playing with pastas.

See, I provided the dry pastas, and I am a serial person. First I gave her some flower/wheel shapes, and then I brought out spiral/rotini noodles. Only, when I offered the spirals, the tot flipped. No Mixing Allowed! But the beans were mixed, I thought. Oh, wait. The beans were mixed together before they were introduced. Somehow, that made it okay. Sigh. It took over a month for the pastas to be allowed to play together.

But back to the beans. In our early play with beans, we played only with beans. We worked on feeling okay about them spilling on the floor, we learned to delight a bit in the sounds they made when poured into different containers, we practiced scooping and dumping. We (read: the tot) got more comfortable.

Then, S. brought dried rice to one of our sessions. Oooh. I gotta tell ya, playing with the rice finally made me understand why those miniature Zen gardens with the sand and the little rakes really do lower stress. The rice was smooth and even, in texture and in sound, and we all felt relaxed dragging our fingers through it.

Until S. suggested we mix some beans and rice. The tot quickly became anxious. She stood up, her voice rose in pitch, and her utterances became abbreviated with staccato delivery.

I don’t remember now what S. did to calm her, but it worked. The tot watched S. build a small beach in a large mixing bowl, using the beans as water and the rice as sand. Then S. suggested we add water to the beach. The tot loooooooovvvess water play (go figure), so she lit up at the chance to pour water in the house in a room other than the bathroom.

She gladly poured and poured, but when she saw what she had achieved – wet beans and rice – she fell apart. It was too much.

S. and I backed away from wetting things for a few sessions, choosing instead to work with a variety of doughs before reintroducing mixing wet and dry textures. It was an important day, no doubt, but we recognized that pressing on could compound her anxiety rather than show her there was no need for it. And this is the core of our approach to helping the tot: her texture issues are simultaneously tactile hypersensitivity and anxiety. We can’t work on one without working on the other.

Eventually, though, it was the tot who brought up the notion of mixing beans and water again. She was terrorizing the living room with her beans and bean-play equipment. I was sitting in a chair reading a magazine when I heard her say quietly, “I put beans in the water?” Yes, my child. Yes, you may.

Bean and water play ended up being more water play, dumping and pouring water in a 9×13 plastic container with some beans at the bottom for effect. She wasn’t really playing with them, but she wasn’t worried about them in the slightest, which was a great victory in itself.

Lately, as in the last several weeks, she will permit more mixing of textures, particularly dry things, including herself, as seen in the picture below.


Don’t worry. I punched lots of holes in the lid before I put it on. I MEAN, the lid was in the other room, inaccessible to the tot.

In the picture, you can see she is “washing her hands” with beans as pretend soap. She has added to the beans several small pumpkins, her cooking utensils, and her plastic sheep (seen under her butt). She is luxuriating in the bin o’ beans. She is happy.

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