See, Smell, Hear, Taste, Feel. We are all familiar with these words and of course that they represent the five senses. I am excited to share with you one of my favorite 5 senses activities for toddlers! “What’s Missing?”
What’s Missing games are a wonderful way to explore the 5 senses and they foster other important skills, as well. I think you will be surprised by how long this activity can captivate a toddler! Let’s explore the 5 senses together, shall we?
I recently came home and immediately noticed a comforting, familiar smell that was making its way towards me from the kitchen. Imagine a scent dancing across the room like sugar plum fairies.
I didn’t need to open the oven and take a peek with my eyes (although, of course I did!). I didn’t need to touch the objects that were baking inside. I didn’t even need to TASTE them.
I patiently awaited what would inevitably be a culinary experience that would be the capstone of my day!
Beeeep. Beeeeep. Beeeeeep!
My ears perked up. There it was. The sound my ears had been waiting for! Oh, that beautiful sound.
My husband emerged from the other room and pulled his creation out of the oven. He carefully used a spatula to move the cookies to the cooling racks on the counter. He gave me a look that clearly said, “don’t try them yet”. I begrudgingly obliged.
The home-made chocolate chip cookies were finally ready for their big TASTE test. I was the willing participant…okay, we all were. Our family gave these delightful pieces of Heaven 5/5 stars. Perfection.
What I had just experienced was a beautiful multi-sensory experience. All of my 5 senses were engaged at some point in the process.
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Sometimes, one sense is dominant, and it is all we need to take in information from our environment. Other times, several of our senses work together to make sense of a situation or to fully engage in an experience.
As adults, we don’t usually give much thought to which of our senses we are actually engaging at any given time. We developed this understanding and the subsequent connections in our brain much earlier in life.
For toddlers, however, this is not yet fully refined or understood. This is why we teach the 5 senses. We help children make important connections between their own body/brain and the world.
Teaching the “What’s Missing 5 Senses Activity”
The new academic year has begun and we are kicking off school with the theme five senses. This “What’s Missing?” activity was the perfect way to begin our month-long exploration on the topic.
This activity includes the use of a specific book. For your convenience, I have added a link to it at the end of this article.
I prepped this lesson by drawing on a large sheet of newsprint a picture of a girl. I colored her with markers and crayons, but you may have noticed that she has some missing body parts. That was certainly deliberate.
Her five senses are missing from the picture. I drew her eyes, ears, nose, mouth and hands on a separate sheet of newsprint and cut them out.
I laminated everything. Since the full body of the girl is larger than regular printer paper, I used contact paper to “laminate” her. This is not a step you can skip, especially if you plan to reuse your drawing. It must be laminated, as well as her missing senses.
On the first day of our theme, I showed my preschool students the above picture of my girl. I began by just asking what they thought of my drawing. They all liked it. 😉
It was funny to watch their responses! The students realized something was off, but it took a few seconds to figure out what. Finally, they started saying things like, “Yeah, but she doesn’t have any eyes, silly!”
As the students began to identify what was missing from my drawing, I used double-sided tape to adhere each “sense” in place. (This is why is is so important to laminate your drawing.) We went through all the senses, some of them being much more difficult than others to identify. For example, the nose and ears were the last and took a little more thought.
Finally, my drawing of the girl was complete. The students helped me add all her senses.
But, we were not finished. I asked the students why she needed all those extra parts we had just given her. Why did she need eyes and ears, hands, and a mouth and nose? This class of young children easily identified some of the five senses but found others more difficult to recognize.
I removed the eyes from the drawing and students knew right away that without eyes they cannot see. But, when I removed the hands from the girl, some students responded that without hands we can’t grab things. Close, but I really wanted my students to use the word “touch” to refer to the sense.
Our discussion continued until all five senses had been identified with relation to their body part. Then, I described and defined the term “senses.”
I followed up our activity with the reading of the book My Five Senses. I managed to get a big book from the library which was awesome for my students, since it felt life-size. In fact, on one of the last pages of the book is a drawing of two hands. The students loved putting their hands on the drawing and seeing they were almost the same size.
I have pinned this drawing to the wall, and the five sense body parts are in an envelope next to it. During free choice centers students have the option to give the girl her “missing senses”.
Teaching the Five Senses to Toddlers
Every day, toddlers are making new discoveries about themselves and the world. Inevitably, this new information is taken in and processed using the 5 senses. Here is some information to help guide you as you teach your toddlers activities about five senses.
- Sense of Hearing: Tell your toddlers, “We hear with our ears. Good listening takes practice. Let’s practice being good listeners.” A great way to practice sense of sound is with fun sound matching games.
- Sense of Sight: Sight games can help kids recognize patterns, objects, letters, words, etc. which contributes to early literacy skills. Color matching and sorting activities are one such example of excellent ways to develop attentive “sense of sight”.
- Sense of Smell: Explain how we make strong associations with certain smells and that smells can be “comforting, yummy, yucky, etc”. Scratch and sniff stickers are a fun way to explore sense of smell. So are seasonal items such as pine boughs during the holidays.
- Sense of Taste: Kids often develop taste preferences in their early years. It is good to encourage taste activities with a variety of items and discuss how they taste (salty, sour, sweet, etc.) There are many items kids can taste like different types of vegetables, fruits, or even jelly bellies!.
- Sense of Touch: Touch activities using the hands and feet can help develop motor activities like tying shoes, buttoning, and writing! Activities such as identifying and sorting types of textures and “Mystery Touch” are fun ways to develop this tactile sense.
Be sure to add “What’s Missing” to your five senses unit of study. You will definitely SEE the benefits for your toddlers. Enjoy this thematic unit with ALL of your senses!
I’m Sarah, an educator turned stay-at-home-mama of five! I’m the owner and creator of Stay At Home Educator, a website about intentional teaching and purposeful learning in the early childhood years. I’ve taught a range of levels, from preschool to college and a little bit of everything in between. Right now my focus is teaching my children and running a preschool from my home. Credentials include: Bachelors in Art, Masters in Curriculum and Instruction.
[…] Tactile learning is often referred to as hands-on learning, and remains a buzzword in the education field. This kind of learning gives children opportunities to actively engage in the learning process by doing something. Instead of sitting back and simply listening to the information fed to them, children act on the information and practice what the are learning, because children, especially preschoolers, use all five senses to learn. […]