One day in our preschool class, the children noticed the smell of a lavender plant. Instinctively they questioned the plant, probed it for the scent, discussed the color, discussed the word lavender and it’s relation to smell and color, and discussed gardening in relation to the plant.
The next day we made lavender play dough and the children used the lavender play dough for the next two days. Our goal with this project was to listen and have them describe what the smell of lavender made them think of (creating connections and retelling).
One child said it reminded him of coffee, another said it reminded him of strawberries and another child said it reminded her of sugar. Based on these observations and descriptions, we placed containers of coffee and sugar for them to explore with. Without any direction from us, the children immediately began investigating the coffee and sugar and hypothesizing what they should do with it. Almost immediately, the children began adding the coffee and sugar to the play-dough and incorporating the ingredients into their play. Some of the children recognized the smell of the coffee, which strongly overpowered the smell of the sugar.
While the children experimented and explored the coffee and sugar with their senses, we added another element to this activity and made cupcakes and cookies. The children began discussing the smell of the dough and incorporating the coffee and sugar into the dough.
The children engaged in a unique sensory experience with this activity. They were introduced to the sweet smell of lavender from a delicate flower, the grainy texture of coffee and sugar, the sharp smells of coffee, the mild taste of sugar, the soft yet dense dough, the weightless feel of lavender petals, and more. The children were provided with opportunities to pound dough, scoop sugar granules, use their fingers to bury coffee into play dough, mold play dough, and sprinkle coffee. Needless to say it was a complete sensory experience!
You might ask, why does sensory play matter… or why is this even important? Angie Dorrell, a NAEYC accreditation validator and former commissioner, puts this in perspective when she says, “Imagine trying to teach a group of four-year-olds about melting without allowing them to hold an ice cube as it melts in their hands or to watch cheese on bread in the microwave. As a grownup, imagine learning how to use a computer without actually sitting in front of a computer!” Ultimately and without a doubt, we need to experience certain properties with our own senses in order to comprehend and communicate important properties.
According to Danielle Steinberg, by giving children the opportunity to investigate materials with no preconceived knowledge, you’re helping them develop and refine their cognitive, social and emotional, physical, creative and linguistic skillsets.
For a great article on how sensory play helps children develop and cultivate skills, click here!