These sense of smell activities will help you explore the senses with children in a fun, practical way.
Whether you are simply working on your kids’ sensory development or trying to teach the concept of senses through a preschool theme, these ideas are a great starting point.
How do you teach the sense of smell?
Examine the senses and their place in children’s lives through natural play and planned activities, both at home and in school.
Projects for some senses spring to mind immediately, while others could take a little more thought. Check out these 15 sweet-smelling activities for preschoolers.
1. Smell Bottles
Gather small plastic bottles, cotton balls and items for smelling. Those items could include familiar spices, coffee (ground or beans), cocoa and dried fruits.
Liquid items, like lemon juice, vinegar, essential oils, flavour extracts and perfume can be deposited with a dropper onto cotton balls and then placed inside the bottles.
Children sniff and name the smells. If they are unsure what an item is, they could state what it reminds them of (cinnamon=apple pie).
You could offer pictures of the items for children to match up with the smells in the bottles or make two bottles of each smell for matching.
2. Good Smells & Bad Smells
Draw a simple chart with the two halves labelled “Good Smells” and “Bad Smells.”
Share a book with children about smells, such as Farley Follows His Nose (Lynn Johnston & Beth Cruickshank) or Ferdinand the Bull (Munro Leaf). Click the links to watch them on YouTube.
For each smell mentioned in the book, challenge kids to decide if that is “good” or “bad” for the columns on the chart. Sometimes they might disagree because of personal preferences.
Depending on the books shared and your goals, you could also add a “Dangerous Smells” category for things like gasoline and smoke.
3. Go on a Smell Walk
While walking in the neighbourhood or even in the garden, focus on how things smell.
Small items could be collected and added to a “smelling box.” Children can draw pictures of larger items.
Discuss good fragrances and questionable odours, why things in nature smell as they do, and what the animals who sniff here and there can discover.
4. Smell & Taste Connection
Before serving snacks or a meal, challenge kids to close their eyes and use their sense of smell to guess what you are serving them.
Next, ask them to taste the food with their noses pinched closed to show the close connection between smell and taste.
Remind them about when they have a stuffy nose and have trouble tasting their food. Explain that the flavours we detect while eating come from a combination of smelling and tasting.
5. Sense of Smell Arts & Crafts
Offer smelly materials for children to use in their arts & crafts projects. Some options include scented markers/dotters, smelly playdough/slime, scented paint and crushed fruit cereal with glue.
Kids can attach coloured cupcake paper “flowers” to construction paper, with each having a centre made of a cotton ball with essential oil or perfume added. Stems and leaves can be drawn on with scented markers.
6. Homemade Scratch & Sniff
Purchase various flavours (scents) of powdered gelatin.
Children spread glue thinly on heavy paper or cardboard and then sprinkle one type of gelatin at a time onto the glue.
After plenty of drying time, they can scratch and sniff the various areas, guessing the smells.
7. Smelly Collage
Assemble many types of items with smells: leaves from herbs, flowers, dried spices, coffee and flavoured dry gelatin.
Add cotton balls or fabric swatches with essential oils or flavour extracts.
8. Fruit Tea Bag Painting
Offer an assortment of fruit herbal tea bags. Children can sniff them and guess the various fruits.
Then, using heavy paper for the background, the kids each choose several tea bags and arrange them on the paper. Using spray bottles filled with water, they squirt a little at a time on each bag, watching the coloured water escaping around the bags.
Children can also move the pleasantly scented bags around on the paper to mix the colours or squeeze them for even more colour.
9. Name that Perfume
Show kids and talk about the names of some common perfumes or colognes. Set up a sensory station with various liquid-scented items, such as those used in activity #1, to design their own “perfumes.”
Challenge children to think of appropriate (or funny) names for their concoctions.
10. The Nose Knows
Share picture books and talk about the noses of humans, along with how various animals and insects detect smells (tongues, trunks, antennas and even feet).
Offer cards with pictures of all those examples for kids to sort into categories of nose types.
11. Experience the Scent
Offer scented shaving cream for children to manipulate with their hands, which releases even more of the smell.
Add scented flavour extracts or essential oils to your water table for kids to enjoy while dipping and pouring with various plastic containers.
Here are more fun shaving cream activities.
12. Cinnamon Finger Painting
Children can create finger paintings.
After the pictures have dried, add a thin coating of glue. Then sprinkle ground cinnamon over the glue to let dry for scratch and sniff artwork.
13. Release the Scent
Offer children squares of sandpaper and large cinnamon sticks. They can then draw on the paper with the cinnamon, to release the wonderful smell.
14. Design a Class/Family Book
After exploring many scents and books about smells, children choose their favourite scents.
Each child designs a page for the book about the smell they chose, either drawing something related to the smell or actually adding the smell to their page.
Older preschoolers could also add letters or words they want on their pages, and the younger children could dictate their words to an adult.
All pages should feature the kids’ names. Compile the pages for the book, to be read, smelled and enjoyed by all!
15. Smell Vocabulary
As a part of all smelling activities, model and incorporate vocabulary for kids to use when discussing various scents.
Ideas to include: sweet, stinky, yummy, sour, rotten, sweaty, spicy, icky, smoky, minty, earthy and flowery.
Because all the senses are closely related, feel free to address more than one sense at a time even if the sense of smell is your main focus. The “nose knows no limit,” so use these activities above as a jumping-off point for your own ideas!
Here are more activities to help you teach the rest of the senses, including:
- Body awareness (proprioception)
- Balance (vestibular)
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