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Sense of Smell Observations - What Does Your Nose Know?

Safe smelling. Something about that phrase makes me giggle even though it is a real and valid safety issue. In science, you don’t want to put your nose directly over something and take a great big inhale. Why? Well, imagine how you’d feel if your nose was over a bottle of bleach. And no, I did not give my daughter a bottle of bleach this week.

My daughter turned two last week. I thought we were ready to  try out safe smelling. Then I realized that she still heavily purses her lips as part of the process of smelling, not quite grasping the mechanics of it all. I decided to let her stick her nose over things for now. If your science tyke is a little older, you can help them learn to waft smells towards their nose using their hand to fan the smell from the container over to their nose.

So what did we smell? Well, at two years old you are running around like a crazy monster most of the time. In order to have her focus on the smell, I needed things that were strong smelling and would grab her attention. And remember, I want to use what’s around or not too hard to get.

Since it finally stopped snowing in upstate New York, we started outside. We pressed dandelions against our noses, and sniffed the wind while our neighbor used their grill. I opened the lid of the trash can and we took a smell that we described as stinky. Um, eww.


Back in the house,  I opened up the spice cabinet. I took out the cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. She smelled each with gusto. Luckily none got up the nose, but before I could stop her, she did take a big pinch of ginger and put it right in her mouth. Wow, that was an awesome face and I wish I could have snapped a picture of it. This made me think about how connected our sense of smell and taste are. It probably smelled like a tasty treat to her. That connection came out again when I next brought out the oregano, thyme, and rosemary. Oregano prompted her to say “Smells like pizza.”

It’s difficult for English speakers to describe smell. We like to describe the source of the smell (vanilla smells like cookies, rose smells like a flower) instead of the properties of the smell (vanilla has a sweet smell, rose has a fragrant smell). I want to help my tyke do the latter but realize I’m not only fighting an uphill cultural battle, but also lacking the knowledge to do so well. This week set a goal for my two year old to pay attention to smells. Moving forward, I’m going to try and be more conscious about describing what I’m smelling myself so that I can help her do the same.

Practicing observing will help your tyke no matter what science topic you decide to delve into next. The ability to actually identify smells, while influenced by biology and environment, can be developed through experience. If you want to read a fun book of smells with you tyke, check this one out: How Do Dinosaurs Eat Cookies? by Jane Yolen.

Takeaways this week:

  • By practicing an observation skill, like smelling, we get better at it.
  • Encouraging smelling may need closer supervision if it is going to lead to tasting!

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