Senses Science: What’s That Smell?


“Ewwww. I smell broccoli!”

“Mmmmmmm, cookies.”

“Finley’s stinky!” (Actual quote.)

Smell is one of the five ways we learn about our world, along with sight, sound, taste and touch. For most animals, their sense of smell is their sharpest. It helps them hunt, find out where they are going and locate family members. Human noses are not quite as sensitive, but we can still detect more than 10,000 different smells!

For scientists, their five senses are important tools, whether they are studying animals in the field or creating new chemicals in a lab. Here’s a fun activity to help your budding scientist hone his or her sniffing skills.

What you need:

  • 3 or more small containers (Note: We used test tubes from Learning Resource’s Primary Science Set.)
  • Cotton balls (for liquids)
  • Smelly stuff: citrus peels, herbs, spices, coffee beans, vinegar etc. (Just make sure whatever you are setting out is safe to sniff. Avoid harsh chemicals.)
  • Handkerchief or blindfold

What you do:

  • Put a little bit of smelly stuff in each test tube.
  • Blindfold your child and hand him or her each test tube in turn. (Note: Sniffing coffee beans in between each test tube can help cleanse the nose’s “palate.”)
  • Ask questions: What does it smell like? What does the smell remind you of?
  • Challenge your child to guess what’s in the test tube.

A good extension would be to have children record their observations and guesses in a science journal. Younger children could draw pictures of their guesses instead of using words.

Do you want to learn more about your sense of smell? Check out these kid-friendly links: