Science and Stories – Smell 1-20-16

By Awnali Mills

Today was a special science storytime.  Our storytime theme was the five senses, and then we did experiments with our sense of smell.

The books I chose were I Really Like Slop by Mo Willems, Mix It Up by Herve Tullet, and Smelling by Rebecca Rissman.

I Really Like SlopMix It UpSmelling

In my magic bag, I had a rain stick.  I had the kids close their eyes and try to figure out what the sound was.  Someone guessed pretty quickly.  We talked about all the ways that we experience rain, hitting on every sense.  I was astonished that no kid would ‘fess up to having tasted rain.  I informed them that just as soon as it rained, they needed to run right outside and stick their tongues out.  We all practiced, which I found hilarious.

Since all of our senses are part of our bodies, we sang Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.

Then, we read I Really Like Slop.  I have to say that this newest book by Mo Willems about our friends Gerald and Piggie is by far my favorite, and that’s saying something.  This book covered the sense of taste (and smell) very well, and had the kids and adults rolling.

Next, we did the fingerplay Dance Your Fingers Up.

Dance your fingers up, dance your fingers down
Dance your fingers to the side, dance them all around
Dance them on your shoulders, dance them on you head
Dance them on your tummy, and put them all to bed

Credit: Storytime Katie

We talked about how you use your sight to see stars at night, and then stood up and sang Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star while we twinkled our hands over our heads.

Our next book was Mix It Up.  This is always a crowd pleaser.  The kids (and adults) gasp in awe as the colors change as we use our fingers to mix the colors, and smoosh the book pages together.

Since we didn’t want to leave our hearing out, we sang Do Your Ears Hang Low (one of my favorites).  To finish the story portion and introduce the concepts of how smell works, I read a portion of the non-fiction book Smelling.  Now, this is a really simple book, and I could have read the whole thing, but the other two books were a little lengthy, and I wanted to move things along.  Smelling does the job perfectly.

I had anticipated a large turnout, and I wasn’t disappointed.  I had set up five stations, each with the same four experiments.  This enabled the crowd to spread out.  More than one child could work at an experiment at the same time.  Now, in all honesty, these weren’t so much experiments as experiences with smelling.  The kids were using their senses of smell to complete activities.

Same or Different?

  1. Same or Different?

In this activity, there are three clear, lidded, containers, all with clear liquids in them.  One is water, one is alcohol, and one is vinegar.  The kids look at them and see if they look the same, and then if they smell the same.   Then, there are three more clear, lidded, containers, all with vinegar in them, but each colored a different color.  Again, they look to see if they are the same, then if they smell the same.  The lesson:  Not everything that looks alike smells alike, and not everything that looks different smells different.  Our sense of smell can tell us a lot about the world.

Scent Matching Game

  1. Scent Matching

In this activity, there are eight numbered (1-8) film canisters.  There are four sets of two canisters, each set with a different scent in them (so four different scents.)  The kids need to smell each of the canisters and match the canisters with the same scent.  They can record their guesses on the sheet provided.

Rate the ScentScent Graph

  1. Rate the Scent

There are three film canisters in this activity.  Each has a different scent in it.  The children smell each one, decide which they like best, and then put a foil star in the graph to indicate their favorite scent.  Not only were the children being asked to be discerning in their smell, but they were also creating a graph for the math win!  Interestingly enough, each of the five stations had a clear winner, with lemon and frankincense being the two favorites (spearmint came in last).

Match the Scent

  1. Match the Scent

For this, I made three batches of non-cook play dough.  One was scented with two packets of cherry Kool-Aid, one with pumpkin pie spice, and one with peppermint oil.  After playing with the play dough, the children were asked to match the scent with pictures of cherries, pumpkin pie, and peppermint.  This was the only activity where scent identification took place, and pictures made it easy.  This was also by far the most popular of the activities because of the multi-sensory aspect.  Play dough, man.  Kids dig it.  At the end, as I was cleaning up, there were some families lingering to complete activities and play, and I offered to let them take the play dough home, since I was just going to throw it away.  Talk about thrilled!  Every bag of play dough found a home.  Things are right with the world.

IMG_20160120_110136 IMG_20160120_110129 IMG_20160120_110126


  1. Film canisters are not easy to come by anymore, but we had a nice stash of them. You can also use Diamond Daily Mini Cups with Lids.  These are what I used for my clear containers.
  2. I used essential oils for my scents, dropped onto cotton balls inside the canisters. I happened to have these on hand, but you can also use extracts.  Oils are very strong and may cause reactions in some people.  I strongly cautioned parents before we started to please not participate if they had absolutely any concerns about allergic reactions.  Also, children were not allowed to open the canisters.  No touching the oils!
  3. Because scents can be overwhelming and pretty soon your nose can’t smell squat, I had two Dixie cups of coffee beans at each station. I explained their use as “smell clearers” before we started, and asked that they be kept away from small hands, mouths, and nostrils (no beans up the nose, please!)
  4. Because my scents were fairly strong, I left set up till the morning of my program. Each scented container was separated from the others by baggies, but you could still smell them.  We were in a very large room, so the smells dissipated somewhat, which was a blessing.
  5. Mothers thanked me for making the scents pleasant ones rather than gross ones. Even though the vinegar wasn’t “pleasant,” they insisted that it wasn’t awful, either.
  6. The signs I used can be found at this link.
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