Sometimes it seems smell is the black sheep of the five senses family — the most often overlooked, the one that’s a little out of place, the runt. But it’s good to help toddlers learn to use all the sensory tools at their disposal, so why not incorporate some nose time into your activities? Learning about noses and how they work also teaches toddlers about their own body.
Bonus!The Smell Station
Cynthia Catlin, author of “Toddlers Together” and veteran preschool teacher, shares an odoriferous activity: Gather together some small containers with lids — film containers or baby food jars — and stuff a small cotton ball in the bottom of each one. Now add a scent by sprinkling a pinch of dry material such as cinnamon, ginger, garlic powder or ground coffee on top of the cotton ball. Or you can add a drop or two of liquid to the cotton — try vinegar, vanilla and peppermint extracts, even perfume. Other smelly stuff to try: pine needles, orange or lemon peels and rose petals. Stick to five or six containers total so as not to overwhelm your preschool charges. After setting up the smell station, give each child a sniff and see if they can guess the smell.
Cut out a selection of noses from magazine photos. Noses can be human or animal or both. Let kids glue a nose collage on construction paper from the cutouts. Afterwards, you can talk about the different nose shapes or tell stories about what they might smell. You can even make a second collage of pictures of things that have distinctive odors such as skunks, flowers, fish and fruits.
Make a three-dimensional collage with potpourri. Set out a selection of sweet-smelling items and let children glue them to posterboard, corrugated cardboard or Styrofoam trays. You can use dried orange and lemon peels, dried mint leaves, dried lavender flowers, dried rose petals, dried sage leaves, dried lemongrass, shards of cinnamon bark or pine needles. You can also use commercial potpourri. Encourage children to smell each item before gluing it down. After they’re done, smell their composition again. Ask which smells are strongest and which are weakest as well as which ones they like the most.
Coffee Bean Texture Table
If you have a texture table set-up available, fill it with whole coffee beans or dry ground coffee. Add your usual scoops and cups to let preschoolers pour and scoop. Don’t use your expensive custom roasts for this activity, please! You might be able to get a donation of about-to-expire materials from a local coffee shop, though. Use this idea only if you’re sure your preschoolers won’t put the beans in their mouth — they’re not toxic in small quantities, but they can upset the stomach. Plus all that caffeine isn’t good for growing bodies.