Young children learn through sensory play experiences – and a sensory area where children have the opportunity to explore different textures and smells is often one of the most popular spots in an early childhood setting!
There are also lots of opportunities during routine activities like handwashing and snack time to draw attention to the experience of textures and smells. (ie: dry hands, wet hands, the smell of clean hands, how do different foods feel and smell?)
Let’s explore some different play activities and extension ideas that build on this interest and help you expand on the children’s knowledge and experience. You will also find materials. room setup and other resources at the bottom of the page.
- Create scent/smelling jars
- Create a fabric book with different textures
- Make a game out of the idea: “Which sense am I using?”
- Talk about why we use our senses, and what they tell us about the world. How do they help keep us safe?
- Talk about the body parts that we use with our senses
- Make playdough – talk about how the texture and smell of ingredients changes during the process.
- Cook with the children – talk about how things are different before and after you cook them. How do the textures and smells change?
- Bake cookies. How does they smell before, during and after baking? What does the dough feel like? What do the cookies feel like when they come out of the oven? How do they feel on your tongue?
- Talk about different smells. What does spicy, sweet, sour, strong smell like? Does hot and cold have a smell? What do some of these things taste like?
- Add flowers, plants and herbs to explore, speak to parents about what herbs they use at home. Place flowers and/or herbs in the sensory bin with water or sand.
- Provide different types of clothes, pillows, and lengths of fabric – be sure to incorporate different cultures, colours and textures.
- Provide children with accessories (ie: hats, gloves, scarves or purses)
- Play with different kinds of fruit and different kinds of boxes or containers that are used to collect fruits around the world (of various materials, shapes and sizes).
- Glue different materials and textures to boxes for the children to feel. From rough to smooth, sandpaper velvet, silk fabric.
- Create an African village, Nowruz celebration and/or Eid celebration and ask families to suggest and/or bring in items for the children to explore.
- Compare and talk about how different items feel and smell
- Bring items that have different textures and smells that can be passed around and talked about as a small group activity and then added to a sensory table or bin
- During clean up, ask the children to find different toys and materials based on their texture or smell
- Read stories that include descriptions of different textures – for example talking about snow and how it feels, or how flowers smell
- Play a memory style game that relies on the child’s sense of smell to match the scent
- If the children are comfortable with the idea, do a blind taste test at snack time! Can the children guess what they are having for snack based on the smell? If they close their eyes and feel their snack, can they guess what it is? What if they taste it with their eyes closed? Provide different textures of snacks, like apple sauce/apple yogurt/cracker etc.
Culture and diversity
- Include items from different cultural groups to your sensory table or bin
- Find out what smells and textures might be familiar to the children from home. What spices do they use in their cooking?
- Introduce smells and textures from cultures that may be new to the children
- Bring in and talk about a braille book
- Bring in representations and stories around disabilities that affect your senses (vision and hearing impairments). How do people use their senses in these situations? In what ways can people engage their senses? Talk about the different kinds of supports that can help people with vision and hearing impairments (ie: hearing aids, sign language, service dogs braille, canes)
- Ask families to share items with different textures and smells from home
- Talk to the parents about how children learn through their senses. Give them examples of how they can support their child’s learning at home. For example, Take time to notice and talk about different textures and smells in the home!
- Talk about places in the community where you might experience different textures and smells (ie: the park, a pond, a farm, a forest, bakery, pharmacy, fabric store, grocery store, garden centre)
Gross motor and movement
- Provide gross motor equipment with different textures – things like different kinds of balls, bean bags, sponges, wood, a trampoline
- Ask open-ended questions about how things feel, look and smell
- Incorporate fabrics in the activities – for example, try running or dancing with long pieces of different kinds of fabric. Do they all wave in the wind in the same way? What is the difference between lighter fabrics and heavier fabrics?
- Go for a scavenger hunt walk to find different textures and smells
- Cut materials with different textures and smells (ie:paper, fabric, playdough, grass)
- Manipulate different textured objects
- Use tools to manipulate objects – for example tweezers, tongs, scoops, a fork, large spoons, and/or chopsticks. Are they easier or harder to pick up with different tools? Do they feel heavier or lighter?
- Use language that brings in emotions. For example: “I like/don’t like this smell or texture,” – or “This smell or texture makes me feel…”
- Talk about how textures make us feel. For example: What does it feel like when you’re wrapped up in a soft cozy blanke? How does it feel on our skin? Do we like it or does it make us feel too hot today? Validate a child’s reaction to a smell or texture and remind them that it’s ok to not like something!
- Use natural materials in the sensory bin
- Choose non-food items for the sensory bin. For example: paper pulp, shaving cream, clean mud, rocks, soapy coloured bubbles, ice, snow, cotton balls, straw or hay, aquarium gravel, feathers, soil, add water create mud, bars of soap shavings using a grater to create small pieces
- Add items into water play. For example: babies, sponges, cloths, plastic animals and people, bubbles, food colouring and scents. Talk about what they smell like and their texture/how they feel. Do they feel or smell different when they are wet versus when they are dry?
- Add water to the sand table and let the children make the sand muddy! You can also add things like sea shells or slime.
- Taste, smell and dry/preserve fruits or vegetables. You can dry fruit in sun or use a dehydrator.
- Add food colouring and/or glitter to small jars or bottles of water.
- Place water beads in zip lock bags.
- Hide things with different textures under a piece of fabric and see if the children can feel it and guess what it is. (ie: paper, toys, household items, nature)
- Make jello paint.
- Provide children with ice cubes in a sensory bin to explore.
- Provide shaving cream and encourage children to add different colours and see how they mix.
- Create a tasting activity that provides an opportunity to taste something bitter, sweet, salt, lemon, sugar… talk about the taste of things, how does it make their tongue feel? Do they like it?
- Provide different textures of fruit, vegetables and/or foods from different cultures for the children to taste, smell and touch at snack timel. Encourage children to use different words to describe how snack smells, feels and/or tastes.
- Add straw to the sensory bin.
- Provide felt pieces, straw hats, and pompoms for young children to feel!
- Cornstarch and water makes a fun goop that you can add different colours and scents to. You can also add small animals or sea shells that are smooth or rough!
- Collect a variety of flowers to smell and take apart. Encourage the children to break off the petals and leaves to explore and smell.
- Collect different pieces of fabric or carpet to feel the texture.
- Use sandpaper to sand chairs or wooden tables or blocks.
- Bring in wallpaper or clothing/fabric to decorate or paint on.
- Smell different spices and flavours of kool-aid/jello (ie: strawberry, grape, lemon, mint)
- Add shaving cream and colour to Ziplock bags. Children can practice writing letters or numbers on the bag without getting messy
- Make individual touch/feeling boards. Provide a variety of materials for children to use to create their own board.
Video credit: Meena Ahuja, Afghan Women’s Organization
Art and creative
- Add scents to paint, glue, water, sand or sensory materials
- Provide plenty of creative materials that include different textures, colours, fabric, paper, natural materials. Let the children choose from a variety of materials to create something.’
- Provide opportunities for children to smell a variety of things – both pleasant and unpleasant! (ie:sweet, spoiling, strong odours)
- Use cookie cutters to create different shapes from fruit or potatoes, and paint with them. You can make shapes like squares, stars, circles,
- Paint with ice cubes.
- Place objects in an ice cube tray and cover with water or juice before freezing. (ie: fruit, small toys, objects) If you use juice and fruit, it makes fun popsicles for the children!
- Bring things the children can squeeze and mash/feel between their fingers (ie:pudding, yoghurt, soft fruits, tomatoes, mangoes, strawberries)
- Paint with toothpaste – you can use different flavours and colours
- Make rice with different smells and colours. You can even add spices to the rice or unusual colours.
- Paint with pudding or yoghurt
- Paint a mural or make a mural with fabric or different types of paper. Bring a variety of textures for the children to explore and choose from.
- Use large crayon or chalk to create a rubbing/imprint of concrete or walls.
- Try “painting” a concrete wall outside with water and watch it evaporate/disappear with the heat of the sun!
- Take buckets small, large and shovels and pails outside to collect small pebbles and make a rock garden. Look at the shape of pebbles, feel the texture and talk about what you see and feel.
- Add small pebbles and rocks to the indoor or outdoor sand area
- Describe what the child is holding, seeing, tasting or smelling to support language learning and development
- Ask open-ended questions to allow the child to share their experience in a way that is meaningful to them
- Match words to items
- Ask what things are in different languages
Different material ideas:
- Fabric with different textures, colours and patterns
- Toys made of different materials (ie: wood, plastic)
- Incorporate items with different scents (ie:essential oils, flowers, fruits, vegetables)
- Introduce different kinds of books (ie: board books, touch-and-feel books, paperback and hardcover) You can talk about different scents and textures in the books.
- Beautiful junk (ie:paper, plastic, cardboard, tin) You can talk about, smooth, rough, big and small.
- Find natural items and bring them into the classes such as leaves, rocks, shells, driftwood, tree bark.
- Use construction materials such as pieces of wood, tile, sandpaper, carpet pieces, wallpaper to either create with or use in the sensory bin.
- Explore ingredients and make playdough, soup or bread together.
Room setup and considerations
- Have a selection of materials in your creative area
- Use soft and brighter colours in the room
- Provide loose parts – both man-made and natural to give the children opportunities to experience and create something