Under-threes play ideas - scents

Cinnamon shapes

  • Give the children sheets of sandpaper of varying roughness.
  • Invite them to make marks on the sandpaper using cinnamon sticks, and encourage them to smell their creations.
  • Cut the scented sandpaper into shapes and punch a hole in them to make necklaces.
  • Alternatively, use other aromatic materials to 'draw' on sandpaper - for example, scented soaps or scented candles.

Smelly socks and bags

  • Stuff odd socks or small net bags with cotton wool and perfume each with a different smell. Use, for example, flavoured teas, peppermint essence, lemon essence, ground coffee, cinnamon, mild curry powder, flavoured pudding mix, dried fruits or herbs and spices.
  • Tie the socks or bags security and attach ribbons to make them more attractive.
  • Display on a mug rack or wall hooks for toddlers to explore the different smells.
  • Alternatively, fill the socks and bags with pieces of perfumed soaps or candles.

Smelly dough

  • Provide perfumed playdough.
  • To make your own, you will need: 2 cups of flour, 1 cup of salt and 2 tablespoons of cooking oil, 1 cup of warm water and a scented ingredient such as cinnamon, ground cloves, flavoured tea, jelly crystals or peppermint food flavouring)
  • Mix all the dry ingredients in one bowl and liquid ingredients in a separate bowl.
  • Stir the two mixtures together until the dough forms a ball.
  • Finally, knead on a lightly floured surface until the dough is pliable.
  • As an alternative, add food colouring or textured materials such as glitter.

Smelly cushions

  • Make small cushions by sewing up remnants of material with different textures and stuffing them.
  • Add various subtle aromas to the stuffing - for example, lavender, cinnamon and peppermint essence.
  • Invite the children to crawl over the cushions or play 'peek-a-boo' with them.
  • You could also ask the children to indicate which cushions they like the smell of and which they do not.

Fragrant flowers

  • Make fragrant flowers for the children to smell.
  • Attach cotton wool balls to small baking cases using Velcro and add a different fragrance to each of the balls.
  • Glue the baking cases to cards cut in the shape of flower heads and attach straws for stems.
  • Stand the flowers in playdough so the children can smell them at their leisure.

Scented tissues

  • Buy scented tissues or create your own, for example, spray tissues with mild perfume or wrap them round some citrus peel or herbs and leave overnight to absorb the smell.  
  • Place the tissues in decorated boxes or scatter them around the outside.
  • Encourage the baby to smell the tissues by first smelling one yourself.
  • Throw a handful in the air and let them fall on your head and face.
  • Lie down and throw them up again.
  • Drop one in front of the baby or, if you feel they would enjoy it, over their head.

Around the room

  • Use candles, oil burners, incense or fresh flowers to give baby and toddler rooms a lovely smell.
  • Try to create a scent of the week or day, introducing the children to a wide range of scents they may not normally encounter.

Fresh and dry

  • Have around the room vases of fresh flowers, displays of artificial or dried flowers for comparison, and plants with textured leaves to rub, dust and wipe.
  • Invite the toddlers to help you tend them.

Herb collage

  • Gather together a range of herbs, heathers and grasses.
  • Add a few bright flower petals and place them in small bowls with the herbs and grasses.
  • Roll out a large piece of sticky-back plastic and attach to a cardboard frame.
  • Allow the toddler to place the petals, herbs and grasses on the frame, creating a 'picture'.

To their fingertips

  • Encourage the children to explore the smells, tastes and textures of powders such as hot chocolate, strawberry milkshake, malted drink and icing sugar with green food colouring with peppermint essence (or similar).
  • Place some powder on the child's fingertips and let them make marks on paper.
  • Repeat after adding water to the powders to make pastes.
  • Cover the tip of your nose with one of the pastes, and describe the smell.


See also ‘Paints, pastes and powders’

When using these suggestions, make sure that your resources are clean and safe for young children and that the activity is age appropriate - the ideas outlined cover the birth to three age range 

Based on ideas by Alice Sharp, managing director of training and resources company, Experiential Play, http://www.experientialplay.com

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