It Smells

Children will learn about the sense of smell.

Lesson Objective

Children will learn about their nose and explore the sense of smell by describing and identifying different smells.


What You'll Need

  • Opaque plastic containers (empty butter, cream cheese, or cottage cheese containers) – 1 per scented item
  • Cotton balls – 15
  • Vinegar – 2 tablespoons
  • Lemon juice – 2 tablespoons
  • Vanilla flavoring – 2 tablespoons
  • Almond flavoring – 2 tablespoons
  • Cocoa beans or a few pieces of chocolate
  • Coffee beans – 12
  • Orange peel – from 1 orange
  • Banana peel – from 1 banana
  • Apple peel – from 1 apple
  • Mint leaves – 4–6
  • Cinnamon sticks – 2
  • Scissors (adult use)

What To Do

Note: To prepare the containers, make several holes in the lid of each container with scissors. Put the pieces of banana peel, cinnamon sticks, mint leaves, etc. in individual containers and close the lids. For the liquid items (lemon juice, vinegar, and flavorings) soak two to three cotton balls with the liquid, place each flavor in individual containers, and close the lids.

  1. Begin with a container with a familiar item in it, such as the apple or the banana. Show the children the container and tell them that there is an item inside.
  2. Pass the container around and ask the children if they can guess what is inside without opening the container.
  3. Observe the children as they examine the container to see if they are shaking it, turning it over, trying to open it, or sniffing it.
  4. As they begin to guess what is inside, ask the children how they are making their guesses.
  5. Open the container and show them what is inside. Continue the process for each of the containers. For the liquid items, show the children the bottle it came from or a picture of a lemon, almond, or vanilla beans.

Guiding Student Inquiry

  • Tell me what your nose is used for.
  • How does your nose help you figure out what you smell?
  • Describe what you think it would be like if you did not have a nose.

Explore, Extend & Integrate

  • Glue the lid shut on each container and put them in the discovery area. Add pictures of each item to create a matching game. This activity will last just a day or two because some of the items will start to smell really bad!
  • Make scented paint with the children for the art area. Combine 1 packet of flavored powdered drink mix with 2 tablespoons of warm water. Mix the ingredients until the powder dissolves. Use several different flavors and make a variety of colors. When the paint dries, the children can “scratch and sniff” their artwork.
  • Make scented markers and crayons available for use in the art center.

Check for Children’s Understanding

  • Could children explain what their nose is used for?
  • Did each child try to explore the different smells by sniffing them?
  • Could the children identify the smells?


Did You Know

The sense of smell is one of our five senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. We do not actually smell with our noses; our noses act like a cave for collecting smells. We have a special nerve for smelling that is found in the nasal cavity, called the olfactory nerve. It contains tiny receptors that collect the smells of things. We each have about 10 million receptors in our nose. The receptors send messages to the brain about what we smell. The brain interprets the information and identifies the smell; therefore, we actually smell with our brains!

Our noses are incredibly sensitive. In fact, of all our senses, smell is the most sensitive. There are an unlimited number of different smells in the world. Most of the time we are not even aware that we are smelling anything at all. We can recognize many smells, and each of us has our own favorite smell. One of the most recognized smells from childhood is the smell of crayons. Just like fingerprints, every person has a smell that is unique to that individual.

Vocabulary: Child-Friendly Definitions

  • nose – the organ of the body through which a person or animal breathes and smells.
  • nostril – one of two outside openings in the nose.
  • smell – to sense something by means of the nose.
  • scent – a smell.
  • fragrance – a pleasant smell.
  • sniff – to take in short breaths of air through the nose that can be heard.

Lesson Tips

Some children may be uncomfortable not knowing what is in the containers and may choose not to touch or smell the containers.


  • Smell by Maria Rius
  • David Smells!: A Diaper David Book by David Shannon
  • Little Bunny Follows His Nose by Katherine Howard
  • Smelly Socks by Robert Munsch
  • Whose Nose and Toes? by John Butler
  • I Broke My Trunk by Mo Willems
  • The Nose Book by Al Perkins

Home School Resources

Home educators: use these printable lesson PDFs to teach this lesson to your home schoolers. They're available in English and Spanish.

Home/School Connections

Las Conexiones a la Casa

While we believe that the books and resources recommended may be of value to you, keep in mind that these are suggestions only and you must do your own due diligence to determine whether the materials are appropriate and suitable for your use. PNC has no sponsorship or endorsement agreement with the authors or publishers of the materials listed.

Content Provided By

Common Core State Standards Initiative – These lessons are aligned with the Common Core State Standards ("CCSS"). The CCSS provide a consistent, clear understanding of the concepts and skills children are expected to learn and guide teachers to provide their students with opportunities to gain these important skills and foundational knowledge [1]. Visit the CCSS