Mini Topic: Smell

Sniff out the differences in objects, experiences and memories with activities from Jean Evans

Creating a sensory table where strange and familiar smells can be investigated is bound to be a popular attraction for the children in your setting. Position the table where children will be aware of familiar smells around them, perhaps close to a kitchen area. Create a low wall display near the table to attract the children's interest and encourage them to have fun exploring what is on offer. Consider some of the following suggestions:

  • Create a large nose from papier mache. Make it with the children, ask them to paint it a skin tone of their choice and mount it in the centre of the display.
  • Invite the children to paint pictures of things that they consider smell pleasant or unpleasant.

Note that some children's allergies can be triggered by simply the smell of some foods, not just by the taste.


Smells can serve as powerful reminders of past events. Encourage children to talk about memories as they investigate some of the suggestions below.


Fill plastic margarine tubs with natural materials to evoke memories of outdoor experiences. Cover the tubs with brown paper and tape fine netting securely over the top so that the children can smell the contents without spilling them.

  • A forest walk - chopped evergreen twigs, pine needles and small pine cones.
  • An autumn woodland walk - fallen leaves, twigs, acorns, moss, conkers and other autumn fruits.
  • A garden - damp compost.
  • A summer afternoon - grass cuttings damped down with water.
  • A walk in the park in summer - scented flower heads.
  • At the seaside - damp seaweed.


Encourage children to talk about their memories of visiting relatives, cafes and parties, or simply comfortable times at home as they sniff drinking chocolate, or milk shake powder in plastic cups. Tape fine netting securely over the top.


  • Cut out and laminate a picture of a kitchen and a bathroom.
  • Gather together items associated with each room. For example, for the kitchen, collect slices of onion, a stock cube, curry powder, vinegar and mixed peel, and for the bathroom, use soap, shampoo, bubble bath and toothpaste.
  • Smear the liquids and pastes on to make-up remover pads. Wet pads and then add powders so that children do not sniff the dry substances. Put each of the items in a box, seal with tape and pierce lots of holes in each box.
  • Invite the children to sniff the items, to say if the smell reminds them of a kitchen or bathroom and to put the box on to the relevant picture.


Explain how some items are perfumed to make them more attractive. See if the children can match the artificial smells to the real thing in the following:

  • Pineapples and strawberries (or any fruits with distinctive smells). Cut a pineapple and some strawberries in half and invite the children to smell them. Do they like the smells? Which do they prefer? Hide some pineapple and strawberry scented items in boxes and see if the children can tell which is which by smelling them. Use scented soaps, dried fruit, potpourri, juice, sweets or bubble bath poured on to make-up remover pads. Ask the children to put the scented boxes beside either the fresh pineapple or strawberries.
  • Flowers Invite the children to smell flowers and say which smell they prefer. Introduce floral scented objects such as soap, perfume, dried flowers, candles and potpourri. Do the smells remind them of any of the flowers?


Encourage children's interests further, and invite them to discuss their preferences, by presenting new experiences in interesting ways:

  • Herbs Ask children to make comparisons between freshly grown and dried herbs.
  • In the bag Hang a row of net bags above the table at child height and invite the children to sniff them. Hang up bags full of items such as dried lavender, mint, parsley, potpourri, rose petals, garlic cloves, small pieces of cinnamon sticks and liquorice root.
  • Soak up the smell Drop essences such as peppermint, almond, lemon and vanilla on to thin sponge glued to small margarine tub lids so that the children can hold them up to smell them.

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