Preschool Science: The Senses

My child attends a co-op preschool, and I am their resident science parent. I recently completed a 5-week cycle on our senses that was absolutely fascinating to be a part of. By the way, I strongly believe in the importance of spaced repetition in order to cement learning in place, so I always design my lessons to be done over a minimum 4-week period.

Each week starts the same with the children and I sitting at a table with a sheet of white paper and a marker. I ask them to name the 5-senses for me (volunteers must raise their hands quietly to answer) and we draw an eye, ear, nose, tongue (with taste buds) and a hand. After I complete this I then start with the rest of the lesson.

Week 1: Smell
I put a bit of herbs (I used cinnamon, rosemary and ginger) into paper cups. I also put a cotton ball soaked with rose water in a cup. Then I secured a piece of paper over the cup and punched holes in the paper with a toothpick. I gave a cup to each child and asked them to describe the scent. I then asked of the scent was sweet or not sweet, and whether they could identify the scent. Then we took off the tops so everyone could see their item.

Week 2: Hearing
I asked for a volunteer to come up who was comfortable being blindfolded. I then asked for volunteers (hands-up, no speaking) and the second volunteer would say “Hello, how are you doing?” and then the blindfolded child would guess who it was. I was surprised that the children guessed correctly less than 50% of the time. I did this a few times, and then I changed the experiment and would make a sound for the blindfolded volunteer using everyday items around the classroom including a stapler, scissors and a water bottle. If the child couldn’t guess I would let him or her handle the item (in a safe way) to give them more sensory information. I then asked everyone to put their hands on their knees while I put my hand on my head. Most people in our group put their hands on their head. I explained that because vision is most humans’ dominant sense, that when we hear and see something that are conflicting, we’ll trust our eyes first.

Week 3: Touch
I put items in touch canisters, and each child would touch an item and then answer if the item was hard or soft, big or little, and then guess at the item. It was interesting how quickly children guessed items that they touch frequently. You could see that it was practically instantaneous with items such as goldfish crackers and sidewalk chalk. Other items that they saw a lot but never touched were more challenging such as golf balls.

touch canister with expandable sock-like opening

touch canister with expandable sock-like opening

Week 4: Sight
I put black foam shapes inside the touch canisters and asked children if they thought they could see without light? I then demonstrated that “no light means no sight” by asking them what was in the canister. They all said nothing. I then opened the aperture on the canister a bit and passed it around. This time the children said they could see something but they weren’t sure what. I then opened the aperture all the way and you could see the recognition in their eyes as they realized that you need light to see things, and the more light the better. I also explained to the children that for most humans, sight is our dominant sense.

Week 5: Taste
I made 3 solutions of water with salt, sugar and lemon. I then gave each child a spoon and with an eye dropper I put a couple of drops of each solution on their spoons and they would tell me the taste. I then asked the children to pinch their noses and taste again. They all agreed that their sense of taste was diminished. I them explained that taste and smell were linked which is why sometimes when our nose gets stuffed up we don’t taste as well. Taste is also the weakest sense for more humans.

Progress IS Success

Our culture is obsessed with the pursuit of “success” as well as its more deadly (to personal growth) counterpart: the avoidance of failure. However, failure is only failure if a lesson isn’t learned and you go on to make the same mistake again, and again, and again. Failure is PROGRESS if you learn from it, and ultimately, continued progress leads you to complete your goals (aka: success.) This wonderful bit of literature from Portia Nelson sums this idea up poetically and succinctly.

Autobiography in Five Short Chapters: