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When you first step outdoors, do you often take a big whiff of the outside air? Even just the smells of nature can reduce stress and put us in a calmer state of mind. Scientists believe this is because our sense of smell is closely linked to parts of the brain that process emotion and memory- just one whiff of nature can trigger feelings of calm and joy.
There are so many smells in nature to behold- fragrant flowers, damp soil and leaves, cut grass, and fresh rain. For many of nature’s creatures, smell is closely tied to their ability to thrive. In fact, the most commonly used method of communication among animals is the invisible language of odors. Skunks use their smelly spray as a defense against predators, ants produce a scent trail from the food source to their nests, and many creatures use scent as a way to mark territory, seek out food or even to identify members of their family or colony groups. Try out some of these fun ways to help kids explore the scents of nature and focus on their amazing sense of smell!
Guess that smell: Place a variety of ingredients with scents (i.e. citrus, herbs, spices) inside paper bags or opaque containers (i.e. yogurt or other recycled container) with a tissue secured on top so that the contents are hidden. Invite kids to smell each container and describe how the mystery ingredients smell. Offer descriptive words (i.e. sweet, spicy) to boost language skills. Which smells does your child like the most? The least? Do any of the smells remind your child of familiar foods, people, places or objects? Then, invite your child to guess the mystery scents before revealing what is inside.
Guess whose smell: Every one us has our own unique scent and the smell of a loved one often triggers feelings of comfort and joy. Make a pile of clothing items from a few different family members. Kids can close their eyes or use a piece of cloth as a blindfold and try to identify which article of clothing belongs to each family member using only their sense of smell.
Scented art: Activate the sense of smell during art-making by using ingredients with natural scents to make your own paint. Our favorite paint ingredients require no heating or heavy processing but still yield brilliant color and unleash amazing smells, like raspberries, blackberries, turmeric, cinnamon and paprika. Gather water, buckets or containers for mixing, brushes, and paper. As kids mash and mix their paint, invite them to describe the scents that they create. Read more about this activity here.
Scented sensory play: Add sliced citrus and cucumber to a container of water to tantalize the olfactory sense during water play (kids will enjoy the chance to explore sink and float with these ingredients, too). Add spices, herbs, fragrant flowers and berries to your mud kitchen and see what kind of scented feast your child can whip up. Or, add lavender or other spices to forest putty (homemade play-dough).
Smell hide and seek: Many animals seek out their food using their sense of smell. Hide some cinnamon sticks or containers of spices around your outdoor space and invite kids to pretend to be a creature in search of food. Can they sniff out and find the hidden ingredients?
Smelling science: To help kids learn how the senses work together, try out a sense of smell science experiment during meal time. Invite kids to take a bite of food first while looking at their meal and then try it again with eyes closed (isolating one sense often heightens the others). Are the flavors different or more intense with eyes closed or open? To test the connection between the senses of taste and smell (the olfactory bulb, the section of the brain that detects smell, enables us to interpret flavor), kids can take a bite of food while plugging their nose with their fingers. Does the food taste the same?
Slowing down and focusing on one sense in particular is a great way to help kids develop awareness of their senses and develop their ability to focus and stay present in the moment. Noticing the smells of the outdoors also helps kids to connect to nature and create joyful memories that they will be able to draw from into the future.