Sniffing Games: Smelling Spices Builds Toddlers’ Sensory Development

Photo by David Hume Kennerly
Photo by David Hume Kennerly

By Rachel Ward

It’s the holiday season, every kid’s favorite time of year—and a great time to introduce toddlers to new and exciting parts of the world! Cheery songs, chilly weather, and best of all: the delicious smells of tasty treats wafting from the kitchen, featuring flavors that toddlers probably haven’t experienced before. (Mmm…savory spaghetti squash lasagna!)

Introducing your tot to new foods and flavors isn’t just fun to watch as they discover a love for stuffing or pumpkin pie—it’s also building their brain.

“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.

A big part of our curriculum for toddlers includes helping them explore new items and objects with their senses—and this month, we’re giving tots a head start on recognizing some of the scents in those awesome holiday foods by smelling some spices!

Smelling Activities in the Early Years Build the Senses and an Awareness of Food

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 tot into the kitchen while you cook. Give them some crayons and paper to keep them entertained, and whenever you’re about to toss in some seasoning to your yummy dinner, offer them a quick whiff. Simple and painless!

We’ve got even more tips for how to help your toddler develop their other senses, too. Check out our ideas below!

Feel, See, Hear, and Taste: Activities for Kids to Build the Five Senses at Home

1. Touch it, squeeze it, feel it

Fuzzy fabrics, airy bubbles, mushy mud, gritty sandpaper, grainy flour and cornmeal—letting your toddler squeeze, mash, and splash a new texture offers an in-depth learning experience that is a lot of fun and helps their brain develop. (Pro tip: If you’re exploring a messy texture indoors, place a sheet of cardboard or plastic on the floor for easy cleanup.)

2. Oh, the things they will see

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. Bring your living room alive with sounds

Chances are, your tot knows “The Wheels on the Bus” and “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” backward and forward—but there is so much they haven’t heard yet! The sultry crooning of Ella Fitzgerald, the folksy strumming of Mumford and Sons, or the dulcet tones of Michael Buble can be ear-opening for young kids.

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

4. Make those taste buds sing

Now that they’ve graduated from baby food, toddlers have so many different meats, veggies, fruits, and grain products to discover! Start slowly so you don’t overwhelm them—if you know they’re a fan of chicken nuggets, for example, try serving them with mango slices or cauliflower florets instead of French fries. If they don’t care for the new food, no problem! There’s always something new to try tomorrow.

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