The Five Senses: Smell

Students are LOVING The Five Senses theme! Our third week’s focus was “smell” and we kicked off the class with lavender scented purple sparkle playdough. MaryAnn Kohl’s Play Clay recipe is hands down my favorite homemade playdough.
Below is a 1/2 recipe which makes enough for at least four kids to play with at once or to split into four colors for individual play.
2.5 cups water
1 1/4 c. salt
1 1/2 tbsp. cream of tartar
5 tbsp. vegetable oil
2.5 cups flour
Food coloring or liquid watercolor

  • Mix first three ingredients together in pot and cook for a while on medium/low
    When warm add vegetable oil (salt won’t be completely dissolved)
  • Color tip: If you are making a large batch of one color add the liquid water color or food coloring at this point before you add the flour
  • After the oil has warmed add flour slowly and stir as you go
  • Dough is finished when it pulls away from the walls of the pot and is no longer sticky to the touch
  • Let cool and kneed
  • Color tip: If you cook the dough as one batch and want separate colors you can make four balls and kneed the colors in at the end

I find a lot of value in open-ended projects because they allow students to settle into class, tap into their own creativity without the pressure to produce, they support imagination development, and allow children to work at their own pace.
Below is a collaborative masterpiece created by a five year old and her father. I love how they ran with the flower theme!
To bring children’s awareness to smell I put together a “guess that smell” game with a box of secret smell bottles. I used salt and pepper shakers, cotton balls, and a variety of essences oils and extracts. Oils works better than the extract, in fact they were quite strong and lasted all week without any need to refresh the cotton ball. Since I labeled my bottles I had to pep talk literate students into not cheating and made sure to cover the label with my hand as I passed it around.
We used coffee beans as a smell eraser in between sniffing each bottle or if a child was sensitive to a smell or disliked the smell. We used the following scents: sweet orange, cinnamon, spearmint, pine, almond, vanilla, and rose geranium. I started with some of the easier scents to identify such as orange, cinnamon and spearmint. It was fun when students figured out the scent. Orange was often mistaken for lemon, and and several said the mint smelled like gum. I gave hints for the harder scents. Pine was a “walk in the forest” and rose geranium was “a plant in your garden”.
This was a really fun activity and really got wheels turning in their brains. There was a lot of giggling and conversation around what they liked and disliked. Several kids just wanted to smell the coffee which is a fun scent in itself!
For our final scent project we did spice painting and made homemade paint with a variety of spices and condensed milk diluted down with a touch of water. We have a wonderful natural grocery food store in town with an entire section devoted to natural herbs. I scoured their bins for finely ground, colorful herbs. My top picks are: turmeric, beet powder, alfalfa, and paprika. We also used cinnamon, black haw, and fennel, but these didn’t work as well as pigments.
I diluted condensed milk with water in a 1:4 ratio so that the consistency wasn’t too sticky. Kids love to shake and stir and I had no problem convincing them to make their own paint.
It was a little tricky keeping everyone’s color pure so as soon as they were finished shaking and mixing I put the spices away and encouraged them to trade colors back and forth.
Toddlers love to dump and if it’s an authentic exploration in art making I support it!
The paintings below were done by two different five year old students. I love how the paprika stays chunky and the beet and turmeric are so vivid. Condensed milk paint has a really fun shiny quality even when dry that you can’t see in these photos that’s worth mentioning. It’s important to know that food grade art won’t last forever but the product was surprisingly cool and the process was a total winner.

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