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Sense of Smell Activities

In teaching small kids about the five senses, it is a fun activity to do a "Our Senses Week" once in a year. Here are some interesting activities and information on the sense of smell for your kid. You can see all our posts on the five senses here.

Sense of smell involves the detection and identification of molecules in the air. It is closely linked to sense of taste as both rely on the perception of molecules. It is our sense of smell that allows us to detect the flavors in the foods we eat. Our sense of smell can trigger memories as well as influence our mood and behavior. Depending on the age and level of understanding of the child, different complexity levels exist for the information that can be given to the child related to the 5 senses.

The Most Basic Level

The first thing we explain to a child is of course, expose them to a nice strong smell, of maybe something they love to eat and sniff elaborately and smell it ourselves and ask them if they can smell it, it is a nice smell. In my experience, most small kids are not very responsive to smells. My 3 year old niece couldn't even pretend to sniff, she would instead blow with her nose on the food! Both her and my daughter started recognizing and distinguishing smells around the age of 4 to 5.

Higher Levels of Explanation

For primary/elementary school children, it is possible to explain to them about molecules, how every object gives off some molecules, and our noses can detect them. Then comes explanations about nasal smell receptors, olfactory nerve, brain, etc.

The activities described here may turn our to be just learning exercises for small kids, just have fun. Don't be alarmed if they can't really smell much.

Basic Categories of Smells

Tell your child about the names of the 10 basic categories proposed by the researchers from Bates College and the University of Pittsburgh. Those are fragrant, fruity, citrus, woody, minty, sweet, pungent, nutty, chemical and decaying smells. The picture does not include minty and decaying smells examples as I didn't have them.

Guess the food!

Play a game of identification of food ingredients using only the sense of smell. Place a few common food items on a dish and blindfold your child. Ask him/her to identify each item just by smell as you place each item under their nose.

Match the smell!

You can do a game about matching of two same smells. I used salt and pepper sets with cotton balls sprayed with scents & essential oils inside.

A Book on Smell!

You can read a book on the sense of smell.

Are there flowers which smell bad?

Tell your child about Rafflesia, a flower that smells like rotting meat. Kids are amazed to know that not all flowers smell good!

What is a Skunk?

Tell your child about skunks, small animals that spray you with a really bad smelling spray if they are afraid.

And what is the world's smelliest fruit?!


Tell your child about the phenomenal smelling ability of dogs. And why do dogs' nose smell so well?

Can you capture a scent?

This is a fun experiment to do with your child to capture the smell of some nice things. Older kids can understand how molecules of things cause the sensation of smell.

How many smells can we identify?

Here is a good video on smell - how we smell and how many smells can we distinguish, for 8 year + kids.

I hope your child has a fun time exploring the sense of smell! Do post your activities on our FB Group!


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