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Celebrate the Senses With 5 Sensory Activities That Can Grow Your Child’s Brain

Photo by David Hume Kennerly
Photo by David Hume Kennerly

By Rachel Ward

Fall is in the air — and for kids, that means cheery songs, chilly weather, and best of all: delicious smells! In fact, many tasty autumn treats are made with flavors and scents that might be unfamiliar to some children, which makes fall the perfect time to introduce them. 

Did you know that exploring new foods and sensory experiences is a brain booster? It’s true! “Children build their knowledge bank through their senses, such as touch, sound, taste, and smell, and that in turn helps them develop an understanding of the world around them,” explains Hayley Adams from KinderCare’s nutrition team.

Introducing your little one to new flavors and smells (like pumpkin or cinnamon) is a big part of our fall curriculum. Kids love it because it’s fun, and we love it because it builds essential neural pathways in brain. Think of it like a connect-the-dots map in their head!

Focus on fall foods to help strengthen your child’s sniffer!

Cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, lemon, and mint are just a small sample of what’s on our sniffing menu this month!

We introduce kids to these scents (and other kitchen-related sensory experiences) — for a really good reason. “Getting familiar with the scents and tastes of new spices and foods encourages kids to be adventurous eaters, and even builds their curiosity about how foods are made and why they can taste differently — like flavoring chicken with lemon and herbs or sweet chili sauce and garlic, for example,” says Adams.

You can easily keep this kind of learning going at home by inviting your child into the kitchen while you cook. Keep them entertained with a small, safe activity or craft, and offer a quick whiff of seasonings as you add them to your meal. Simple and fun!

Photo by Jessica Byrum / Stocksy / 1037496
Photo by Jessica Byrum / Stocksy

Boost your child’s brain by exploring their four other senses.

1. Play with textures!
Fuzzy fabrics, soapy bubbles, squishy mud, scratchy sandpaper, smooth stones — let your toddler touch, squeeze, mash and splash a new texture every day! This simple exercise is a rich learning experience for little kids that’s a lot of fun and helps their brain develop. 

(Pro tip: If you’re exploring a messy texture indoors, place a flattened cardboard box, an old bedsheet or a plastic mat on the floor for easy cleanup.)

2. Look all around!
From Mount Rushmore and the Grand Canyon to vividly colored flower petals and fiery sunsets, there are some amazing sights for your toddler to see! Even if you can’t take a trip to a new locale, get out there and see what your neighborhood and city have to offer. Your tot will find see something new and amazing, guaranteed.

3. Open their ears!
Chances are, your child knows “The Wheels on the Bus” and “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” backward and forward. But have they heard the sultry crooning of Ella Fitzgerald? How about the folksy strumming of Mumford and Sons, or the dulcet tones of Michael Bublé? New music genres, vocals and instruments can be ear-opening for young kids so share what you love and of course, dance!

4. Whet their appetite!
If your child is comfortable with solid foods, then the doors to the world of eating are wide open! There are so many different meats, veggies, fruits and grains to discover – so don’t be afraid to introduce new foods to your child. Start slowly and keep in mind that it can take many exposures to a new food before a young child becomes comfortable with it. If they don’t care for the new food the first time, don’t lose hope! Keep trying and remember that there’s always something new to try tomorrow.

Want even more tips for how to help your toddler develop their five senses? Ask your child’s teacher for ideas on how to practice sensory learning at home.
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