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Engaging the Five Senses to Learn About Our World
|Grades||K – 2|
|Tip Topic||Tips for Teaching Reading
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Why Use This Tip
The outside world shapes children’s development through experiences that they have, which include using their five senses—hearing, sight, smell, taste, and touch. Drawing a child’s attention to the five senses and discussing them increases understanding of and communication about the world around us.
Explain to the child how the five senses help us figure out what’s going on around us and help us decide whether to enjoy or not enjoy an experience: our eyes help us see, our ears let us hear, our hands help us feel, our noses let us smell, and our tongues help us taste things. Have the child think about times when his/her senses helped shape an experience. How did the senses help? Was it the things you saw? The things you heard? The smell? The way you felt? Something that tasted good?
Continue to talk with the child about how his/her five senses strengthen everyday experiences that we have, as things naturally come up in everyday conversation (smelling the flowers on a beautiful spring day, hearing trains, a yummy tasting cookie from the local bakery, smelling bus exhaust, the way the cold snowflakes feel in our hands, etc.).
Additionally, consider trying some of the following ideas with children to increase their awareness of the five senses.
Children use their ears to take in information about things around them. Like other skills that children learn, listening takes practice. Developing good listening habits helps children get important information from family members, teachers, friends, and coaches, among others.
- Listening Games: Play a board game or card game with the child to see how good he/she is at listening to instructions and the things going on in the game. Ask him/her questions about choices throughout the game.
- Patterning: Using your hands or another object, make clapping patterns together. Take turns having the adult lead, followed by the child leading a pattern, and vice versa. After doing clapping patterns, try the same routine with bells or another noise-making object. Ask the child the following questions after doing patterns both through clapping and through bells, etc.: Which sequence is harder to repeat—the claps or the bells? Which sound do you prefer to listen to? Which sound is louder?
- Take a Sound Hike!: Whether taking a sound hike at the mall, a nearby park, or on a family trip, ask children to notice the sounds they hear and then use sound words as they write their own books.
When children play games that involve sight, they’re practicing early literacy skills! Sight games help children recognize words, patterns, objects…and help them develop their memory!
- Matching Games: Play a matching game with the child, involving cards or other objects, such as the ABC Match. When children play games such as these, they’re working on their visual discrimination skills.
- Play “I Spy”: While reading a book or while taking part in everyday activities, play “I spy” with the child about things he/she sees on different pages of the book, throughout the house, or out and about.
- Optical Activities and Illusions: To teach a child how his/her eyes work (and how our eyes sometimes play tricks on us), experiment with optical activities and illusions. Try folding a dollar bill in front of the child and have him/her prepare to catch it with arms outstretched. Let go of the dollar bill and have the child try to catch it before it lands on the ground. Talk with the child about how our eyes send messages to our brains, and sometimes, our hands may not travel as fast as the bill drops!
Over time, children will recognize certain smells as comforting, yummy, scary, exciting, etc. Experiment with the scents and smells that the child recognizes and those that are more unfamiliar.
- Blindfolded Smell Test: Blindfold the child and place some familiar scents under his/her nose, such as chocolate, cinnamon, paint, etc. Ask him/her questions such as the following: What do you smell? Do you recognize it? Does it remind you of something else?
- Scratch and Sniff: Collect some flowers, spices, or herbs that have a strong smell. Glue some of these items on cardboard or index cards. Have the child guess what the smell is, or use these cards for matching or memory games.
- Combining Smells: Have the child smell approximately 10 things that he/she is familiar with. Together, come up with a list of the items that the child smelled. Now, mix at least two smells together, and have the child guess which two (or more) are paired together. Can he/she correctly guess the combination? Can he/she pick out each smell? Have fun naming the new combinations of smells!
Children develop taste preferences based on what they are fed when they’re in the early years of their lives. Helping children think about which tastes they do and do not prefer, however, will encourage them to try new foods and/or new combinations of foods.
- Make a Salad: As you add different vegetables or other ingredients, ask the child what he/she sees in the bowl. Pick out different ingredients and allow the child to take a bite of each one. Ask the child questions about the creation: What do each of the ingredients taste like? Have you had that ingredient before? Do you like the way it tastes? Does it remind you of something else you’ve eaten?
- Identify Foods: Gather up different foods (preferably that the child enjoys!) and have each child taste each food and guess what it is as he/she is blindfolded or has his/her eyes covered. While the child is tasting, discuss certain words such as sweet, salty, sour, bitter, fruity, etc. that will help him/her understand the meaning of the words.
- Try a Taste Test: To teach about the tongue and different tastes, place approximately 1 teaspoon of different ingredients in different cups. Use ingredients like salt (salty), sugar/honey (sweet), lemon/lime (sour), and grapefruit juice (bitter). Add a few drops of water to the dry ingredients. Dip a cotton swab into each ingredient and have the child touch it to different areas of his/her tongue. Make sure to rinse out the mouth with water between each sample! Talk with the child about how our taste buds affect why we are only able to taste certain flavors on certain areas of our tongue.
Children learn about their bodies and how to communicate with others through touch. Most of the feeling that we do happens through our feet and our hands. Taking part in activities where children feel with their feet and hands help them to learn how to write, button their shirts, tie their shoes, among others.
- Feeling With Your Feet: Have the child, barefooted, feel things with his/her feet and think about the way it feels. Some things that you may wish to the have child feel include paint, playdough, grass, carpet, etc. Ask the child questions about what he/she is feeling: What does it feel like? Do you like the way it feels? Is it rough or smooth? Cold or hot? Does it tickle your feet? Do the same activity with your hands!
- Pillow Play: Place familiar objects inside of an empty pillowcase. Let the child try to guess what the objects are. Help the child describe how each object feels. Vary the activity by using holiday/seasonal items or items with a theme such as animals or shapes.
- Make a Mess: Let the child play with materials like clay, water, sand, rice, playdough, and gelatin. Let the child explore the feel of these items and describe how they feel. Make sure to find an outdoor area or an indoor area where it's safe to get messy!