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I recently introduced my kids to the topic of our five basic senses. After doing an overview of the five senses, we are spending some time exploring each of the senses in more depth. Today I am sharing a sense of smell activity for kids.
Our sense of smell may be the most undervalued of our five basic senses. Nonetheless, the ability to smell is important, as it is closely linked to our ability to taste. Smells can also evoke particularly memories, and smells can calm or to excite us.
In Montessori education, smelling bottles are commonly found in the sensorial area of the classroom. The typical presentation involves giving kids two sets of bottles with matching smells. Children are then asked to smell the bottles in order to match up the smells from each set. I recently created some smelling bottles for my kids to use in order to practice using their sense of smell.
The sense of smell, also called olfaction, involves the detection and perception of microscopic odor molecules in the air. These tiny chemicals enter the nose and stimulate specialized sensory cells called olfactory neurons.
If you are looking for a good book to help explain the science behind olfaction to your kids, I recommend The Magic School Bus Explores the Senses by Joanna Cole.
However, The Magic School Bus book was too advanced for my kids. Instead, we read The Five Senses: Smell by Maria Rius, which uses very simple text.
We also read The Sense of Smell by Ellen Weiss, which provides more details than the Ruis book but was still simple enough for my preschool-age kids to enjoy.
I purchased a set of smelling bottles from Montessori Services (although Living Montessori Now has a great post on making your own.) The set I purchased included six bottles with white caps and six bottles with black caps.
I filled one white bottle and one black bottle with the following six scents:
- tea tree oil
- peppermint oil
- vanilla extract
As I filled each pair of bottles, I placed matching colored stickers on the bottom to provide a way for my kids to check if they had matched the bottles correctly.
I then placed all of the bottles in a basket and invited my son to play. (Only my son took part in this activity, as my daughter has been so stuffy from terrible allergies, so her sense of smell has been really negatively impacted.)
My son then separated the white and black bottles, putting both into lines.
He selected one black bottle to begin. He gave it a good sniff.
Then he went methodically through each of the white bottles, giving each a sniff as he did, to find the matching scent.
When he found two bottles that he believed were a match, he looked at the bottom to check if the stickers matched.
Yay! A match!
It was a lot of fun to see which smells he enjoyed (e.g., cinnamon, vanilla extract) and which ones he did not (e.g., tea tree oil).
A couple of notes:
First, it may be wise to start with just four or even fewer bottles rather than all six, especially if your children are younger.
Second, extracts and oils make ideal scents to put in the smelling bottles – think vanilla extract, almond extract, lemon oil, peppermint oil, etc. That being said, you are welcome to use any scent you have around the house. I recommend looking through your kitchen spices, checking what fruits you have on hand (for the juice), or even heading to your bathroom to use soaps or shampoos. For liquid scents, you can dab them on a cotton ball and place the cotton into your smelling bottle.
More five senses resources
More five senses posts from Gift of Curiosity: