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October 4, 2016

Fall Fun: Smell the Seasons!

Written By: Simone T. Ribke
X Fall Fun - Using Your Sense of Smell - Ideas for Preschoolers

Fall Fun - Using Your Sense of Smell - Ideas for Preschoolers

What is it about fall that awakens our senses so much? Is it the changing colors of the leaves? The pumpkin spice coffee now available again at our favorite java joints? Yes to those and more! In the areas of the country that experience four seasons, fall brings many changes that awaken the senses. In other areas of the country, perhaps it’s cooling down or it’s hurricane season; birds may have begun to migrate through your state or there are suddenly less mosquitoes (or more!). But wherever you live, the biggest (and most profound) change that we all experience is back to school!

The Senses and the Seasons

Let’s think about our 5 senses and how the fall season activates them (in the four-season regions of the country).

Feel: The weather is changing; it feels different. There are lots of different textures to experience like pinecones and acorns.

See: Leaves on trees change color and fall off. The days get shorter and there is less daylight.

Hear: Sounds change. You may hear the sound of migrating birds. Dry or fallen leaves make noise as the wind blows them across the street or as they crunch under your feet.

Taste: Fall produce, like apples and pumpkins, come into season and are fun to eat. Warm spices, like cinnamon and nutmeg, often flavor fall foods.

Smell: Rich smells prevail. Spicy smells like cinnamon or cloves waft from bakeries. Woody smells of fallen acorns and musty leaves prevail outside.


The following activities promote sensory experiences with particular focus on the sense of smell.

Painting a Potpourri

Add colorful spices to tempera and paint a scented fall scene.


  • White tempera paint
  • 11 x 17 poster board (1 per child)
  • Paint cups (1 per child)
  • bowls
  • spoons (1 per child)
  • Leaf shapes for printing
  • paint brushes
  • variety of powdered spices, at least 4 different spices (e.g., cinnamon, cardamom, rosemary, turmeric, cloves, paprika, sumac, ginger)


  1. In advance: Fill the paint cups half-way with paint (to be handed out to children and mixed by children). Prepare 5 paint plates for each spice to pass out after mixing the paint in the cups.
  2. Have children work in fours. Each group should receive 4 paint cups and one bag/container of a spice.
  3. Invite children to smell the spice assigned to their group. What are their observations about the spice? What do they know about the spice? Do they like the smell?
  4. What would happen if you added your spice to the paint? How would the paint change? Would the amount of spice you put into the paint matter? Why or why not?
  5. Invite the children to add 1–3 teaspoons of their group’s spice to one of the paint cups on the table. Have the children mix the spice into the paint. Ask them to compare the most different cups of paint in their groups. What is different? Why do you think it’s different?
  6. Identify/name each group’s spice for the class. Swap paint cups so that every group has one of each spice. Give everyone a chance to sniff the paint from the other groups. Put one brush in each cup of paint, leave shapes, and the paint plates so that each table has one plate for each spice. Ask children to try not to mix the paint colors (at first).
  7. Explain that you are going to use these tools to create a spicy fall tree. Ask children to share their ideas for how they might use these materials to paint a fall tree.
  8. Pass out poster board (1 per child) and paint!
  9. Invite volunteers to share their paintings with the group.


Spicy Play Dough

Exploring fall textures and smells with scented play dough.


  • 4–5 tubs of white play dough
  • Bowl/s for mixing spices into play dough
  • airtight containers for storing play dough (e.g., plastic zipper bags)
  • variety of fall materials collected from outside (or craft stores) (e.g., pine cones, acorns, twigs, leaves, etc.)
  • variety of powdered spices, at least 4 different spices (e.g., cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, ginger, nutmeg, allspice, rosemary, cocoa) and/or vanilla extract
  • Play dough rolling pins (1 per student)
  • Play dough tools (e.g., cutters, or rollers)


  1. In Advance: Kneed the powdered spices into balls of play dough. You’ll need between 1–2 TBS of powdered spice per cup of play dough. Kneed thoroughly and store in airtight containers.
  2. Seat children in small groups of 3–4 children and give each group a ball of play dough in every scent. Each group should also have a variety of tools and the natural fall materials that you’ve collected.
  3. Invite the children to smell the different scents and tell you which ones they like or don’t like. Do any of the smells remind them of foods they like? Which ones?
  4. Discuss how you can make impressions in the play dough using the natural materials you’ve collected. Give children time to experiment with making impressions and playing with the dough.
  5. Can children make interesting combined scents by kneading together small pinches of differently scented dough? Experiment with this idea and let the children share their hybrid scents with their groups.
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