Animal Habitats

Last week at Family Inventors’ Lab, we covered Animal Classification, learning about all the different types of animals. This week, we studied the different types of habitats that animals live in, and next week will focus on how animals adapt to each of those habitats. (And how humans invent things that help them adapt to various circumstances.)

Science Activities

Habitat Sorting game: We laid out 5 pieces of fabric, each representing a habitat. On each one, we placed a photo of a human home in that habitat. (See below.) Then we put out lots of animal puppets and children were encouraged to sort them into the right habitat.

I Spy Camouflage Game. I did a Bing Image search for camouflage, (then filtered the license down to “free to share and use”) and then picked and chose several images from there… trying to find animals that were hard to spot, but not too hard. (It turned out that these were just right for our 5 and 6 year olds, but a little too challenging for our 3 to 4 year olds, so I’ll add some easier options next year.) I made up two sheets for a sort of “I-Spy” game. You can download the free printable here.

Camouflage Sort. We put out 12 plastic animals, and three bowls of sensory materials (aquarium gravel, ground cork, and plastic pellets) and encouraged children to place the animals in the bowl where they could best hide.Two other ways to explore camouflage: a stuffed animal hunt/plastic animal hunt where you hide many animals in the classroom or outside, taking advantage of camouflage where they can blend in, and have kids search for them. An indoor game where children are encouraged to look at what clothes they are wearing, then find the place in the room where they would best blend in.

Habitat Match. I wanted a game where the kids took pictures of animals and sorted them into their habitats. The Wise Owl Factory has two really nice options, one with cute animal drawings and one with photographs. Preschool activities also has a good alternative.

Quiz on Habitats and Adaptations. Next week, we will study Adaptations. This quiz was a preview of that… it asks questions like: “A polar bear has thick fur and fat to keep it warm in the Arctic. How would you stay warm there?” Here’s a free printable of this quiz.

I think this is a great idea… but it didn’t quite engage – the kids mostly walked past this table…. I may convert it into a lift the flap game – the simplest way to do this is just to format it so I can place post it notes over the answers so they have to flip them up to see them. Seeing something kinesthetic to do often attracts the kids more than a piece of paper does.

Art Projects

Make a clothespin creature: Last year, we made egg carton creatures. This year, we did clothespin creatures. We offered clothespins, pipe cleaners, cardstock, googly eyes, pompoms and more, plus we had a sheet with lots of ideas for different types of clothespin creatures to make. (You can find sources for all these ideas on my Pinterest page at

Here’s some of our final products – check out the turtle who pokes his head out of his shell when you open the clothespin!

Build a Habitat: Then kids went to the collage station and used cardboard bases and recycled materials to build a habitat for their creatures. They were encouraged to think about shelter, bedding, and food in their habitats.


Make a fish habitat: We had paper “fish bowls,” aquarium rocks, blue paper squares and foil for water, some plants, and fish from shiny origami paper.

Group art: Last year, we created a spider web with tape. Kids glued onto it bits of plants, and paper spiders.


Math Play: Bear Count. We put out Baby Bear Counters and two dice. Plus rules (PDF) for four different levels of play. That way our older kids (who read) could decide what level to play, or for our younger non-reading kids, their parents could choose.

Rules are:

  • Level 1 (youngest kids): Put one bear on #1 card, 2 bears on #2 and so on.
  • Level 2: roll one die, and place that many bears on the matching card. If the card is full, roll again.
  • Level 3: Roll 2 dice, add those numbers together. Place that many bears on the matching card. If the card is already full, roll again.
  • Level 4: Roll 2 dice. You can add, subtract, multiply or divide to pick what number of bears to use. If all possible cards are full, you roll again. Your goal: to fill the numbers with as little re-rolling as possible.

Imaginary play: We had a tent and camping equipment set up – it’s a human habitat that can be taken out into the woods.


Free Play

Water table: Filled with water, ice, plastic trays to be ice floes. Then we put out plastic marine mammals, penguins, seals, and arctic people with sleds and igloos.

Sensory Table: Last year, we filled with popcorn kernels, assorted animals and wood bits. This year, it was a Build a Zoo activity, with brown rice, plastic animals, and fences.


Build a habitat: Plastic animals and trees to play with. Or Tree Blocks and plastic animals.


Building Toy: We put out our Lincoln logs with a picture of a log house in the woods to tie into the idea of how humans build homes in various habitats.

Teaching the Concepts – Opening Circle

The Big Idea: During opening circle, we explained to kids that habitat meant home. We talked about the things we need for a comfortable home. Since it was a cold winter day, the kids said that houses keep us warm and dry. We agreed that’s one purpose – but if you’re in a really hot place, we might need a shelter to keep us cool and shaded. We agreed it was important to have food in your home, and a comfy place to sleep. It’s also a handy place to stash your stuff that you don’t need right now, but will need in the future. We showed pictures of homes from several habitats around the world.

Then we talked about what different animals need in their home. We held up puppets and asked what would be a comfy home for that kind of animal. We wrote key things on the board: water, food, a place to sleep, a way to protect themselves from the weather and a way to hide (from their predators or from their prey.) One idea we shared was that certain animals can only live in certain places. Polar bears do great in the arctic, but not in the desert. A camel couldn’t live in the Arctic. Whales have skin and blubber that protect them from cold ocean water, and many animals have camouflage that protects them.

Book: Where do animals live – a non-fiction overview of habitats

Song: Sing to the tune of Mulberry Bush / This is the Way we Wash Our Hands. I found this at but I adjusted the wording a bit… Hold up a puppet, ask where it lives, then sing a version of this song:

  • Forests are where the deer live, the deer live, the deer live… the forest is where the deer live, It’s their habitat.
  • Deserts are where camels live…
  • Oceans are where octopi live…

Reviewing the Ideas in Closing Circle

Book: Whose House by Seuling. A mildly silly book about all the houses that are not right for a boy

Reprise Song with New Puppets: After we sang each verse and placed the puppet in its habitat, we asked them what helps that animal live well in that habitat.

We tied this into last week’s discussion of Animal Classification and talked about how fish are only found in watery habitats like oceans, rivers, and ponds. Birds are found in lots of habitats, but they’re different depending on where they live: birds in the jungle are brightly colored and eat fruit and nuts, penguins are birds in Antarctica and have dense, thick feathers and a layer of fat to keep them warm, and eat fish. This also previews next week’s Adaptations class.

Book Recommendations

Where Do Animals Live? by Kalman. Ages 5 – 7. Good photos, a nice non-fiction overview of the basic ideas about habitats, and an introduction to 7 habitats (forest, desert, mountain, grassland, very cold, wetland, and ocean) and one animal in each habitat.

The ABCs of Habitats also by Kalman. Age 7 – 10. This is more of a resource book for a classroom library, rather than something you would read aloud in one sitting. For example, grasslands is a two page spread which covers content like: “In North America, grasslands are called plains or prairies. In South America, they are called pampas. Animals called guanacos live on the pampas.” Photos and illustrations.

Whose House? by Seuling and Chorao. One page shows naturalistic illustrations of animals in their homes and describes that home. Then the next page shows a child trying to fit into that same home and says it’s “not for me!” Sample: “Brown bats dwell in a pine hotel, feet over head, no need for a bed. It’s fine for bats… but not for me!” Nice information about a variety of animal homes, kids love to shout out “not for me” on each of the pages. The “not for me” illustrations anthropomorphize the animals – showing a frog reading a newspaper, or a queen bee in robes and a crown, so if you prefer your illustrations to be realistic, this book is not for you.

I See a Kookaburra!: Discovering Animal Habitats Around the World by Jenkins and Page. For 5 – 7 year olds (or 4 year olds with patience to look for details.) One page spread shows a detailed collage of a habitat with lots of animals hidden in and amongst the plants and other features. The next page spread “lifts off” all the cover, showing the full bodies of all the animals, in the same location / position as on the previous page, so it’s easy to line them up with each other. It also offers information about each animal. So, for example, on the jungle page, we see a toucan’s beak poking out from behind leaves, a jaguar on a branch, covered up by leaves, an iguana shaded by a fern, etc. Click on the link for the Amazon listing, where I included photos with my review of the book.

Whose House Is This? by Gregoire. Age 4 – 7. Nice colorful nature-based illustrations. It’s a fun guessing book, where it asks something like “whose house is this, dangling on a tree” and we see a branch and some green frog legs. Then you turn the page and it tells you more about the red-eyed tree frog and its home. “This is a red-eyed tree frog’s leaf. During the day, the frog may sleep under a leaf of a rain forest tree…” The non-fiction text is a little dry, but the guessing game aspect makes it a good read-aloud.

What Am I? Where Am I? by Lewin. Introduces 5 animals. It shows a circle with an isolated picture of some part of the animal (the otter’s nose, the tiger’s whiskers) on one page and asks “what am I?” On the next two pages, we see a picture of more of the animal, and it says “I am a _____. Where am I?” On the fourth page, we see that animal in its habitat – “I am in a forest.” It’s a fine book to get from the library to have as one of the books on the shelf – it’s interesting, but a little limited in content. You could take this idea and easily assemble your own book featuring other animals using images from google image search – it could be a fun project to do with a child. Age 4 – 5.

Castles, Caves, and Honeycombs by Ashman & Stringer. “Many places make a home: a heap of twigs, a honeycomb, an aerie with a bird’s eye view… a warren in a grassy glen… a home’s a house, a den, a nest. A place to play, a place to rest, a place to hug. A home is someplace safe and snug.” A nice read-aloud with lovely illustrations, that shows several animal homes and ties them in nicely to the child’s own experience of home. Good for class, but sweetness of it would also make for a good bedtime story. Age 3 – 6.

What Can Live in a Desert? by Anderson. Age 4 – 7. (The series also includes books on Ocean, Grassland, Mountain, Lake, and Forest habitats.) A nice overview of habitats and the adaptations seen in animals that live there. Each page contains a photograph and one sentence, such as: “Desert geckos have webbed feet. They can walk on top of the sand without sinking.” The word webbed is bold face, and is defined in the glossary. At the end of the book, there’s a couple pages of “fun facts”. A simple non-fiction overview. It would be nice to have the full set so kids could compare side by side what the differences are between the animals in each habitat.

Weird But True Animal Homes by Bredeson. Ages 5 – 7. Covers antarctic shrimp, cave salamanders, Eastern wood frogs, naked mole rats and more. Includes photos. Each page has a couple factoids about a creature, then the catchphrase. “It’s weird but it’s true.” Sample “Black smoker tube worms. What a big hot tub! Jets of hot water shoot out of cracks at the bottom of the deep sea. Giant tube worms grow near the jets. They do not have mouths or stomachs or any way to poop. The worms soak up everything they need to live from the hot water… It’s weird….”

Home Sweet Nest and Home Sweet Web by Salzmann. (Series also includes: Burrow, Cave, Den, and Tree.) Book description on Amazon says ages 4 – 7. I think best for 5 or 6 to 7. Excellent macro photography. Sample text: “Grass spiders make funnel webs. The spider waits for the prey to land on the web. Then it runs out of the funnel and grabs the prey.” They’re nice non-fiction books about that type of home. But the title implies it might compare these other homes to human “home sweet homes” and it does not.

The Wonderful House by Margaret Wise Brown. This Little Golden book was written in 1950, and you can tell by its style. It is a charming book that shows a home and says “but who lives here?” For example, after a picture of a bird house, it says “two little birds that fly in the air live here.” After a picture of a cave, where we see animal bones, it says “a big old lion and his lion family. They live here.” I don’t love the end where something is flying through the air, and you’re supposed to guess what it is, and it’s a house “with wings to fly with and wheels to roll on and pontoons to float on and balloons to hand on… and a boy and a girl live in this house… and they all go flying through the air to where they want to go.” I like kids’ non-fiction, and I like whimsy and fantasy…. its just odd when one veers off into the other one.

Resources to Learn More

A full unit on animal classifcation and habitats, focused on aquatic birds. I think it’s suitable for upper elementary (ages 8 – 10) classroom or home school, but you could adapt some of the ideas for younger students:

Complete lesson plan on animals and habitats. Includes science standards for 1st grade:

  • Explain what a habitat is
  • Explain why living things live in habitats to which they are particularly suited
  • Identify the characteristics of the Arctic tundra habitat
  • Identify the characteristics of the Arctic Ocean habitat
  • Explain how Arctic animals have adapted to the Arctic tundra and Arctic Ocean habitats
  • Identify the characteristics of the desert habitat
  • Explain how desert animals have adapted to the desert habitat
  • Classify animals on the basis of the types of food that they eat (herbivore, carnivore, omnivore)
  • Identify the characteristics of the grassland habitat
  • Explain how grassland animals have adapted to the grassland habitat
  • Match specific plants and animals to their habitats
  • Identify the characteristics of the temperate deciduous forest habitat
  • Explain how temperate deciduous forest animals have adapted to the temperate deciduous forest habitat
  • Identify the characteristics of the tropical rainforest habitat
  • Explain how tropical rainforest animals have adapted to the tropical rainforest habitat
  • Classify water habitats as either freshwater or saltwater habitats

A video on Habitats – good for ages 6 – 9 or so: Home Sweet Habitat.

Animal Classification

In last week’s Five Senses class, we talked about the core science process skills of Observation and Communication. This week, those skills formed the foundation for our work on a third process skill: Classification. We taught this in the context of Taxonomy – sorting animals into category by class, because that is a fun and engaging topic for kids, and it’s an easy way to introduce and focus on this core skill.

Key concepts of sorting:

There are three steps needed to sort objects into categories.

Observe What does it look like?
Smell like?
Feel like?
Sound like?
Taste like?
Compare How are 2 things LIKE each other?
What do they have in common?
Contrast How are 2 things DIFFERENT from each other?

Once you’ve assessed what you’re looking at, then you decide the criteria by which you want to sort…. am I sorting by how many legs an animal has, or am I sorting these objects by color, or by size? Then you decide which category to put the item into.

These are great base skills to teach your child and to practice anytime: putting silverware away in the drawer, sorting laundry, matching socks, deciding which basket to put your Duplos in, and where to put your stuffed animals.

So, as always in our class structure, we started with discovery time, where our kids have a chance to explore all our activities, then we do opening circle to cover the key concepts of animal classification, (see below), then we have tinkering time to play with everything more. Then after outside time, we end with closing circle to share what we learned.

Learning Activities:

Fishing & sorting. Set up a “pond” – we’ve used a kiddie pool with a foot bridge next to it, or a large plastic tub filled with a blue tarp. Make animals to catch: you could glue magnets or washers onto plastic animals. We printed these pictures from Confessions of a Homeschooler, laminated them, and fastened a paperclip to each one. Make fishing poles: poles or dowels with a magnet tied on. Kids then “fish” for animals.


Once they caught one, they could sort it into one of five buckets: mammal, reptile, fish, bird, or amphibian. We had signs hanging above each bucket that showed four characteristics of that type of animal: type of skin, number of legs, how babies are born, and where they typically live. (Here are the Sorting into Categories posters, if you want to print your own.) Optional: you could add one more bucket labelled ??? so if a child didn’t know an answer, they could just place the animal there and move forward with the game rather than feeling stuck.

This activity was a good example of how one class activity can work for kids of a wide range of ages. For our three-year-olds, it was just fun to fish – good large motor and small motor practice. We encouraged them to sort items into buckets just by asking: is that a fish or a bird? The four to five-year-old kids also enjoyed the fishing, but we encouraged them to think more about not just what category something belongs in, but why. We’d ask questions like: what kind of skin does it have? How are its babies born? We had a few trickier animals in there, such as bats… even though they have wings, they’re not birds. We talked a little about marsupials and how their babies are born live but small and spend time in a pouch. For the six and seven-year-olds, we asked them to put animals in the buckets, but also tell us other examples of each type of animal.

Tool of the week: magnifying glasses. We had several magnifying glasses, plus things for kids to examine: fur, fake fur, feathers, sheep’s wool that had been carded. At circle time, we also had a small piece of lizard skin we showed them. It was from a leopard gecko, so you could see the spots on it, so we shared it with them when we read the page in our book that showed a picture of a leopard gecko.


Sorting activity: Two containers, labeled “wild animals” and “tame animals” or “animals you’d find on a farm” and “animals you’d find in a zoo.” A collection of plastic animals to sort into the two containers.


Whose Ears / Whose Nose – this is an activity you could also use in the five senses theme or in the animal adaptations theme. Here’s the free printable PDF. I’ve gathered photos of several kinds of animals where I’ve cropped them to show just the ears or just the nose, and kids have to guess what animal it is.

Animal Mix and Match: There are several puzzles and books which allow you to mix and match the heads of different animals with different bodies and different tails. We used this printable: There are also online games and apps such as Switch Zoo which do this.

Take Home Art Projects

No-sew “beanbag” animals: Kids could make an animal by filling a sock or glove with rice, tying it off with elastic hair ties or string, and decorating it. To make a snake, use a small child’s size knee-length sock. Fill it some, tie it off, fill some more, tie it off again, etc. To make a bunny, use an adult size ankle-length sock. Fill the bottom half with rice for the body and tie it off. Fill the next quarter with rice for the head and tie it off. Then the top of the sock gets clipped to make bunny ears. Then you can decorate with googly eyes, pompoms, ribbons, and other embellishments. It’s really important to have good glue, like “Tacky” Glue. We only had Elmer’s that day, and it was a struggle!

One of our students loves turtles, so here’s what he and his dad made:


Here’s a collection of animals – click on it to see a bigger image.

Bird feeders: Option 1: In the microwave, heat vegetable shortening (Crisco), then stir together with bird seed. Tie a string on a pinecone, and slather the pine cone with bird seed goo. Option 2: Tie a string on a pinecone. Spread on peanut butter or sunflower seed butter on. Roll it in birdseed. Tip: when you put this in a ziplock to take home, be sure to leave the string hanging on the outside of the bag so it doesn’t get covered in goo.


Design your own creature: We had a drawing table with paper and markers, and some prompt questions encouraging them to design their own creature… what kind of skin would it have, how many legs, would it lay eggs or have live babies, and where would it live.

Free Play:

Sensory table: Simple… just sand and plastic animals (ideally desert animals) and sifters to shake sand over the animals.


Water table: Toy aquatic animals: fish, marine mammals, amphibians. Some rocks for the amphibians to sun themselves on. Fish tank nets to catch the fish with.

Finger puppets: We had a collection of animal finger puppets for imaginary play.

Animal puzzles: We put out four puzzles with farm animals and zoo animals. For manipulables, we try to put out things of different skill levels. So, a peg puzzle that was easy for little ones, a puzzle where you match two halves together to build an animal, a 24 piece jigsaw, and a cubes puzzle that has 6 different puzzles on the 6 sides of the cubes, so you have to figure out first which side to use, then how to put the puzzle together.

Opening Circle:

Intro to Theme and the Question: “Today, we’re going to learn about “classification” [write on board] This is how we sort things. Like if I had these things [hold up 2 crayons and 4 markers]: if you use your senses to observe them, what do you notice? Compare them: How are they like each other? What do they have in common? Contrast them: How are they different from each other? Classify them: Can you sort them by color? Can you sort them by type of object?”

“Today we’re talking about how scientists classify animals. They divide them into these 5 categories. Some ways to figure out which category an animal is in is to think about its skin: does it have fur, feathers, scales? Or limbs: How many legs does it have? Does it have live babies or lay eggs? Can it live underwater, can it fly, or does it mostly live on land?” (Point out posters from the fishing and sorting activity to illustrate different kinds of animals.)

“We’re going to read a book, and after I read each page, I’m going to ask you to tell me what kinds of animals some of the animals in the pictures are.”

Book: How Are They the Same? (see details below)

Puppet classification. Hold up a puppet, ask questions like: “What is it? What is its skin like – does it have feathers, fur, or scales? Does it lay eggs or have babies? Can it breathe underwater?” Then talk about what category of animal it belongs to and asks for examples of other animals in that category. “It’s a bird, so it has two legs, wings, and lays eggs. Can anyone think of any other birds?”

Conclusions Circle:

One of these things is not like the other: We laid out sets of four finger puppets, and sang the song from Sesame Street, and asked the kids which puppet didn’t belong, and why. We started easy and got harder. The first set was three identical snake puppets and a dragon puppet. The second set was three mammals and a duck. The third was three things that swim and one that doesn’t.

Book: Is Your Mama a Llama?

Animal spinner: One teacher created a spinner with pictures of lots of animals. A child would spin, and whichever animal came up, we all pretended to be. So, we’d have kids quacking and waddling around for a while, then say “OK, we’ll stop being ducks in 3 – 2 – 1.” After they all sat back down, the next child spun, and we were all gorillas. You could also do this as charades: the child who spun wouldn’t tell anyone what the animal was, and they would act it out and have people guess. This would likely work for ages 5 and up. But, for our 3-year-olds, as soon as they see what they spun, they announce it out loud.


Monsters: We included “monsters” in two of our activities last year. With the puppets at opening circle we showed a unicorn and a dragon, and asked about their characteristics, and asked what kind of animal they were and whether they really existed. So, a unicorn is like a mammal, but doesn’t actually exist. With the buckets at the fishing pond, we had one labelled monsters that the mermaid and other mythical creatures went into. It’s a fun thing to include, but you can decide whether it works for you or whether it feels like too many concepts to roll into one class.

Book Recommendations (in order from favorite for my class to least favorite)

Who’s Like Me? This is a lift the flap (uncover and discover) book, where one animal says “I’m a bunny. I am furry and breathe air. Who’s like me?” Then there are flaps with feathers, scales, spotted skin and fur. When you lift the flaps you reveal a pigeon (I have feathers, not fur), a fish (I don’t breathe air), a chameleon (I don’t have fur), and a fox (yes, I have fur and breathe air like a bunny).  Tip: In our morning circle, we had a little chaos as every kid wanted to lift the flaps. So, in the afternoon, we announced before starting a page which children would be responsible for the flaps on that page, and asked all the other children to sit back and wait for their turn.


Is Your Mama a Llama? This is a sweet book and a nice read-aloud. It has a great rhythm and rhyming couplets which engage the kids as they predict what the next word will be: “'[My mama] hangs by her feet and she lives in a cave. I do not believe that’s how llamas behave.’ ‘Oh’, I said, ‘you are right about that. I think that your mama must be a’ …” If you pause here, lots of kids will shout “bat.”

How Are They the Same? by Kalman. Age 3 – 7. This book is a great visual aid for any class where you’re addressing the idea of “same” and “different” or compare and contrast. It is especially good for a class on animal classification. Each two page spread shows several photos, then asks how the things shown are the same or different. For example, on the pages with a leopard, a leopard butterfly, a leopard gecko and a leopard frog: “This cat is a leopard. A leopard has spots on its coat. How are these animals the same as a leopard? Are they cats too?” See above for how we used this book in circle. There are a couple lame pages in the book – the opening page of random “words to know” and the dino activity at the end, but as a whole, it is quite good for our purposes in the class. I especially like the ‘notes for adults’ section at the back that has extension activities such as sorting stuffed animals and drawing pictures of animals in categories.

Creaturepedia: Welcome to the Greatest Show on Earth by Barman. Ages 6 – 9. This is a big hefty book – over 200 pages – there are kids who love big books. Illustrations are fun “kids book” style illustrations, but still reasonably scientifically accurate. Each page spread lists a “category” and then shows several animals that fit that category. The fun of this book is how it assigns animals to new categories: “the prickly ones” includes armadillos, porcupines, horseshoe crabs, sea urchins, prickly leaf beetles, and more. “The show-offs” fill multiple page spreads and include: peacock, gray crowned crane, red deer, martens, and bowerbirds. If you’re a teacher who likes to teach one concept really clearly and doesn’t like to confuse matters by adding in more ideas, then this is not the book for you. If, like me, you like to teach one concept clearly, but then encourage them to play around further with the idea of classification by seeing what’s alike and what’s different, you may well like this for your bookshelf, though not to read aloud.

Mammals: Hairy, Milk-Making Animals  and Reptiles: Scaly-Skinned Animals and so on. There are multiple series that have one book each for mammals, reptiles, etc. These are from the Amazing Science: Animal Classification series by Salas. Age 6 – 9.  The mammal book covers the same basic ideas as Hall, but in much more detail. Appealing illustrations, with good attention to accuracy. Includes a Linnaeus classification chart in the back, which shows how lions are the species panthera leo, which is part of the genus panthera, part of the family Felidae, etc. Sample text : “All mammals are warm-blooded. This means their body temperature doesn’t change much. Because they are warm-blooded, mammals can live all around the world.”

Mammals: A Compare and Contrast Book by Hall. (Note: she also wrote: Amphibians and Reptiles) Age 6 – 8. Great photos. Text is a little bland… like an encyclopedia entry has been split up to one or sentences per page, then nicely illustrated. – “Mammals are a type of vertebrate animal. All animals have a spine or spinal column. // A mammal’s skeleton supports its body. This cat skeleton has a spine that connects the head bones (skull) all the way too the tail.” But, it conveys all the key info about mammals (breathe air, vertebrate, warm-blooded, hair or fur, live birth, and milk.) At the back, there’s extension materials for kids who want more: a dichotomous key and then descriptions/photos of animals that you can assess using the dichotomous key, info about strange mammals (platypus and echidna) and how to look for signs of animals near you. (tracks, evidence of feeding, scat, and signs of habitation.)


Dolphin, Fox, Hippo, and Ox: What Is a Mammal? (Animal Groups Are Categorical) (Animal Groups Are CATegorical (Paperback))  by Cleary. I like the text of this book – I find the illustrations dreadful – not to my taste at all! Anthropomorphized animals, exaggerated features, gaudy colors… But the information contained is good, and written in a style that is engaging for ages 5 – 7. “Mammals all have hair or fur – like tigers or a mink. And when they’re very young, their mother’s milk is what they drink…. they may eat meat or plants or both, use wings or arms and legs, but nearly every mammal is born live and not from eggs.” It is a good overview of all the key info about mammals, and children would find it engaging. I like that the final two pages summarize all the info from the book. This is a series of 5 books, about each category of animals

What Makes a Mammal? (Animal Kingdom) by Rourke. This Discovery Library also includes books on Amphibians, Birds, Fish, Insects, Mammals and Reptiles. Age 6 – 9. Not an attractive book. It has a acceptable-but-not-great photo on one half of each spread – the other half is blocks of text. Each page packs in random factoids that are loosely connected to a theme. “Kinds of mammals. Scientists separate the 4000 kinds, or species, of animals into 18 or 19 groups. One group is made up of meat-eaters. Dogs, cats, otters, seals and bears are some of them. Rodents make up the largest group, nearly 1800 kinds. Rodents have special teeth for gnawing…”

Resources to Explore More

The 5 Senses and Observation

There are key science process skills that children need to learn both for science and for most other academic and life skills. The foundation is observation – using all their senses to learn more about their object of study. This is closely followed by communication – learning how to describe what they have observed so that another person can learn from their observations. (Learn more about these process skills and how to enhance them at

In our 5 senses, the big question we were exploring was: How do your senses help you experience and understand the world around you? We talked about observation and communication as part of that.

Hands-On Projects for Kids

We had a wide variety of hands-on activities and experiments for each sense. But we also realized that each sense could almost be a week’s worth of activities all by itself. There are so many more ideas beyond what we were able to fit into one session. I’ve split the activities into multiple posts to make them all more manageable lengths. Click below for:


Opening Group Time

Intro to Theme and the Question: Tell them you’ll show them an item for just a moment, then ask them to describe what they noticed about it. (We used an orange plastic whistle. It could be interesting to show a very unfamiliar object to have them puzzle it through.) Show it very quickly, then hide it and ask them what they saw. Write down some of what they noticed. Then talk about what senses we used. Tell them that when we use our senses to explore something, that’s called making Observations. (write Observation on the board, then make columns for each of the 5 senses.) Now, pass the item around. Ask each child to make an observation. Prompt them to listen to it, smell it, etc. Write down all their new observations. Tell them that we probably don’t really want to taste it, so they can imagine how it tastes. Point out the long list of all the observations we made and all the ways we can observe one object to learn more.

Book: Five Senses by Aliki

Activity, if time: Play a “Guess That Sound” game. Either: or

How do we sense things: Point to the words for our song (posted on the board). Tell the kids we need to come up with a gesture for each sense. Ask kids what part of the body we use to look – can they point to it? Then do listen, then taste, touch, smell. (Note: I’ve written below the easiest gestures to do for each.)

Note: I also made mini-posters showing what body parts we use for each sense. I used the images from Here’s the PDF.

Song:  Teacher-Cym’s Five Senses Song”  (Sung to the tune of ‘Bingo’)

“What are the senses, can you tell?  We use them every day-o:  Look, Listen, Taste, Touch, Smell – Look, Listen, Taste, Touch, Smell – Look, Listen, Taste, Touch, Smell… We’re using our five senses…!”  Include gestures for senses – point to eyes, then ears, then tongue, touch cheeks with palms, then point to nose. (Note: this was challenging even for adults to get right.)

Closing Circle

Reprise Song: 5 Senses Song. But then like BINGO, start dropping words – first time through we just point at eyes instead of saying look, then we say listen, taste, touch, smell. On second time, we point at eyes, then ears, then say taste, touch, smell, etc….

Book: I Hear a Pickle – Isadora

Discussion / Game: “Did you know that not all people have all five senses? That there are some people who can’t see? That’s called being blind.” Ask the kids for ideas for what kinds of special things can help people who can’t see. (e.g. braille, seeing eye dogs, audio books, etc.) Then say “some people can’t hear. That’s called being deaf. What are some things that help people who can’t hear” (e.g. closed captions, sign language, lip reading). “If we are not able to use one sense, then we have to rely more on the others. For example, in the other room, we had the what’s that smell game where you had to guess what you smelled without looking at it; in the feeling box you had to guess what you could feel without seeing it.” Then we played the “Find and repeat the sound” game described in the Hearing post.

Recommended Books – Overviews

  • My Five Senses by Aliki. Probably the best overall intro to the topic for broad range from 2.5 – 7 years old. It introduces all five senses, then gives examples for each: “When I drink my milk and eat my food, I use my sense of taste. I am tasting.” It’s not an exciting story, but it is a friendly and welcoming book full of simple illustrations of familiar experiences.
  • My Five Senses by Miller would be the best for  2 – 3 year olds. Each page has a big photo of a kid doing something interesting “With my nose, I smell popcorn, a horse, flowers, and garbage.” Good opportunities for discussion: “How do you think the garbage smells? Look at her face. What does she think of the smell?”
  •  I Hear a Pickle: and Smell, See, Touch, & Taste It, Too! by Isadora. For 3 – 6 year olds. The content is a little basic for a 6 year old, but they’ll still enjoy listening to it. The book is pretty long for a three year old, so you might do only one or two senses at a time. Cute illustrations. Each page has a few sentences, with accompanying illustrations. “I hear the rain. I hear the thunder. I don’t hear snow falling.” “I hear Grandma. We hear the music. I hear the drums. Too loud!!” Some fun silliness too – like the smell of baby poo, and the egg that got broken when touched.
  • Look, Listen, Taste, Touch, and Smell: Learning About Your Five Senses by Nettleton. A nice overview for ages 6 – 8. Has lots of public health style tips like “getting a good night’s sleep helps keep your senses sharp”, “wear earplugs around loud noises”, and “wear sunglasses in bright light”, and info about ENT doctors and ophthalmologists.
  • Kevin’s Big Book of the Five Senses, probably the hearing section. The whole thing is too long for a read-aloud, but the hearing section has some nice participatory things… what noise do these animals make?…

Book Series – Reviews

There are several different series that each have five books, one on each sense. I checked out the “Smelling” book from each of these series, and will share with you what I thought about the series based on that sample.

  • Smelling (The Five Senses series) by Rissman. Age 3 – 5, with nice photos of ethnically diverse kids and families doing familiar activities, simple explanations, clear examples. Another bonus is that the people depicted are very ethnically diverse. They also talk about how our senses protect us and about unsafe smells/tastes, etc. Sample of text: You use your nose to smell. / You breathe air into your nose through nostrils. / Your nose sends messages to your brain. / Your brain tells you what you are smelling.
  • Smell (Senses (Smart Apple)) by Ganeri. Age 5 – 7. Photos of diverse kids, illustrations of anatomy. I like that it first asks questions to engage: What happens when you smell a bunch of flowers? What’s your favorite smell? Do you like strong smells like stinky cheese? Covers science of smell well. Sample text “What are smells? Smells are made up of tiny bits that float in the air. They are too small to see. / When you breathe in, these tiny bits go up into your nostrils and into your nose. / The smells float up into a space inside your nose… / There, special hairs catch the smells… / The sticky hairs send messages about the smells along nerves to your brain.” Good kindergarten to first grade non-fiction science book.
  • Smell (Your Five Senses and Your Sixth Sense) by Reade. Age 4 – 6. Good photos of ethically diverse children. Feels more like a connection of random smell trivia than a clearly laid out flow. And some is key info for a young child (“You smell with your nose. Smelling uses your brain too.” and “Some smells warn you of danger. If you smell smoke, there may be a fire.”), other info is not. (“People who cannot smell have anosmia.” “Most people can smell 10,000 different smells.”… most preschoolers don’t know what 10,000 is…)
  • Science in Action: The Senses – Smell by Hewitt. Age 6 – 8. Good photos of diverse kids and pictures of examples of smelly things. Nice overview of all the key info about smelling. Includes activities: “try to be a sniffer dog. Put some smelly cheese or chopped onion on a plate. Ask a friend to hide it. Can you… sniff it out?” “It’s harder to recognize a smell when you can’t see where it’s coming from. Put some banana, lemon, chocolate, soap, toothpaste and dishwashing liquid in six paper cups. Cover the cups with squares of card punched with small holes. Mix [them]… then sniff the lids. Which smells can you detect?”
  • Smelling (My Senses) by Jones. 4 – 6 years. Big, bright, colorful, engaging photos (the best photos of any of these series.) Good, clear basic info. Sample text: “Your sense of smell can tell you when you are in danger. / When you smell smoke, your brain tells you something is burning.” Includes one activity: have an adult find 3 foods with strong smells. Close your eyes, smell, and guess. Minor quibble: It says: “If an object is far away, it takes longer for you to smell it. If it is near to you, you can smell it more quickly.” This doesn’t quite convey it right…. if a smell starts (like smoke begins to rise) you will smell it more quickly if you are nearby, and the smell will take longer to reach you if you are further away. Versus sight is more instantaneous… you see the fire start at pretty much the same time whether you’re one foot away or 50 feet away but with a good sight line.
  • Smelling (Senses in My World) by Rustad. Book description says kindergarten to grade 2. I would say more preschool level, age 3 – 5. Nice diverse photos. I like the focus on: here’s what I smell – here’s what it tells me: “Sean smells pizza. Yum! He knows what is for supper. John smells wood burning. Aah! He knows the [camp]fire is started. Eli smells his stinky feet. Ew! He knows he needs a bath.”
  • My Bilingual Book–Smell (English–Turkish) by Secmen. Age 3 – 5. Illustrations rather than photos. Originally written in Turkish. Book includes the Arabic writing of the original text and the English translation. The English doesn’t always flow perfectly, but the content is good. “It helps you decide what you like to eat and animals you don’t want to meet! [skunk] Your nose is your detective for finding cakes. It will track down goodies, whatever it takes. Your smell sense tells you where you are, in a forest, by the sea, or in a city full of cars.” Good overall, and I give bilingual books bonus points… even though I do not have any Turkish families in my class at this time, I like to put out resources that could serve diverse populations.

How many senses are there? One of the great things about teaching and working with children is that it encourages us as adults to look at things with new perspectives. As we describe how something works, we gain a deeper understanding of it ourselves. And sometimes we learn new things.

I surprised some parents this week by talking about the flavor umami. Many had never heard of it. With other parents, I surprised them by sharing that there are more than 5 senses. There are things which we perceive/are aware of that we can’t really describe as coming to us through those previously defined 5 senses.

I don’t think I would attempt to explain this to preschool/elementary kids, but for older kids and for adults, here are some senses to consider:

  • Vestibular system – helps us to stay balanced, and also tells us if we are moving slowly or quickly through space. Although other senses inform this (like if we’re standing on our head, touch sensors in our scalp will help confirm that) this perception is separate from the five senses.
  • Proprioception – how we know where our body parts are located in space without having to look at them. (This is important… Think how hard it would be to drive safely if instead of watching the road, we had to look to make sure our foot was on the gas, and look at the position of our hands on the steering wheel.) A 3-month-old baby has to look at his hand when reaching for something so that his eyesight can help confirm the location. A five-month-old can reach out and grab without looking at her hand.
  • Senses of our internal bodily systems – the sense of being hungry or full, itches, and the need to urinate are not explained by the five senses and instead indicate other ways in which we perceive information.
  • There’s LOTS more in this Wikipedia article.

Learn more in “How Many Senses Do We Have?”

Next Generation Science Standards (resource for homeschooling parents or teachers). I did not find reference to the 5 senses in the kindergarten through third grade standards. At 4th grade level, there’s 4-LS1-2: “Use a model to describe that animals receive different types of information through their senses, process the information in their brain, and respond to the information in different ways. [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on systems of information transfer.] [Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include the mechanisms by which the brain stores and recalls information or the mechanisms of how sensory receptors function.]”

A resource from New York lists these core content standards for a kindergarten curriculum on the 5 Senses:

  • Identify and describe the five senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch
  • Identify the body parts associated with the five senses
  • Provide simple explanations about how the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and skin work
  • Describe how the five senses help people learn about their world
  • Describe some ways people take care of their bodies
  • Describe some ways the five senses help protect people from harm
  • Describe the experiences and challenges of someone who is blind or deaf

Homework: The best way for parents to follow up on these ideas at home is to ask their child to make observations about things. “Look at this – what do you notice?” “What is that sound?” “Do you smell something?” After they make initial observations, ask more questions to draw out more thoughtful observations for more details. Encourage them to use as many senses as possible to explore it. “what color is it? bright blue or dark blue? what else have you seen that is that color? is it soft or hard? smooth or rough? do you like the way it feels?”

Resources: there’s lots of great activity ideas at:

There is a full free, downloadable curriculum for kindergarten level classes on the five senses available at I haven’t yet reviewed it in detail, but it looks great!

Touch – Science for Kids

Everything we do in our class is hands-on, but especially on the day we study the sense of touch! We explore a wide variety of textures, and learn how to describe with words all that we sense with our hands and other touch receptors.
Free Exploration Stations
Use your sense of touch to “see”: Put items in an opaque container and have kids reach in, feel it, describe it and try to identify it. Container options: something as simple as a pillowcase or a tube sock will do. You could also use a Pringles tube, put a tube sock over the end, and then cut a hole in the tube sock that they can reach through. Or a Kleenex box where they put hand in the opening without looking.Optional: you could have pictures of items (or actual items) out on the table and have them reach in each container, choose an item and explore it by touching without looking then match the item they can feel with one of the items they can see. You can use obvious items (a spoon, an apple), less obvious items (a grape, a marble, a bouncy ball), or specific shapes (magnet letters).We had a game for this, called Touchy Feely. You can get it at Marbles – the Brain Store. Or just create your own!

Textures table: We set up a wide variety of objects for children to explore. Ideas: fur, fake fur, feathers, bubble wrap, pine needles, wool, and sand paper. I found a collection of balls that all felt different: nubbly, smooth, hard, soft, squish, cold, warm. You could also make your own “sensory board”. Just check Pinterest for LOTS of ideas.


Texture gradients: Get several different grades of sandpaper. Have children put them in order from roughest to smoothest.

Sanding Wood: You could then have them use sandpaper to sand rough wood to smooth.

Tactominoes: These dominoes were in our classroom. I can’t find them to buy online – it looks like they might be from Discovery Toys in the 1990s. You could make something like them… In each circle, there’s different textures: sandpaper, corrugated cardboard, fuzzy felt, smooth plastic and so on.

Sensory bowls: You could fill several bowls with different sensory materials (rice, pinto beans, split peas, and so on) and have kids plunge a whole hand in and describe what they feel, then try another bowl and describe how it’s similar or different.

Temperature: Explore temperature sensations by putting their hands in warm water and ice water. Or wrapping their hands around a metal container with ice water in it, and a coffee cup full of hot water. This would also offer an opportunity for a safety talk – when you think something might be hot, approach it slow and cautiously so your sensors can warn you if it’s too hot to touch!

Braille: In our classroom, we had some great resources we just weren’t able to fit into our one day on the senses. We have braille alphabet cards and a braille children’s magazine and more that would have been a fun texture exploration, but also an opportunity for education.

Art Projects

Crayon rubbings. You can tape any textured but relatively flat object on the table, then kids can lay paper over it and do a rubbing.

Texture Collage. Gather a wide variety of interesting textured materials, and let them design their own collage.

Feely Book: You could staple together some card stock and they could create their own
Pat the Bunny style book. (Put lots of sample books on the table, with a wide variety of textured materials (sand paper, fake fur, feathers….)

Guided Activities for Group Time or One-on-One

Identify the texture: You could blindfold a child, have them feel something, then guess what it was. Or you could use your feely box, have one child reach in, touch an object, describe it and see if anyone can guess what object it is. (With younger children, you’d first want to show them a collection of objects before putting them in because it would give kids a better sense of what they might find in there

Can only your hands feel things? When we teach about touch, it’s easy to create a misconception that only our hands feel things (especially because only our noses smell, only our tongues taste, only our ears hear and only our eyes see.) Talk about this with kids, then demo it: can you feel when I touch your head? when I tickle your tummy? when you eat food, can you feel it on your tongue? when you get something in your eye, can you feel it? You could play a game of placing an object on the child’s back and having them guess what it is.

Our sense of touch protects us: Our sense of touch tells us that things are really hot so we know not to touch them and get burned. If we lightly touch a knife blade, touch warns us it’s sharp so we know to move our hand away, not press against it. When we climb up stairs, touch tells us when our foot has reached the next stair, so we can adjust the way we are moving our muscles so we don’t fall. If we couldn’t feel things it would be very easy to get hurt.


Gather textures: On our outdoor hike, we asked them to touch a wide variety of things: rough Douglas fir, fuzzy red cedar, soft moss, serrated sword fern leaves, sharp holly, and so on. They gathered items from the forest floor that were interesting textures in a basket – lots of pine cones, some sticks, some dead leaves, and we took those back into the classroom to talk about more.

I suspect you could make up a good song about “going on a texture hunt… gonna find a rough one….”

More Info: You can find an overview of the five senses and reviews of lots of great kids’ non-fiction books about the senses at

There’s lots more great ideas on Neuroscience for Kids.

Science of Smell for Kids

When studying the five senses, there’s some great scent activities, but you may not want to do too many in one day. I personally get very headachey when exposed to too many scents in a short period, especially essential oils and artificial smells.

Exploring Smells, Noses-On

Scent bottles: First, you need airtight containers: You can use spice bottles from the dollar store where they have to flip the lid open to smell it (a small motor challenge for some), or ziplock bags, or yogurt containers with slits cut in the lid (kids can squeeze the sides and scented air will puff up through the slits in the lid), or two cups taped together with holes cut in the bottom.

Put in any of these items:

  • fragrant foods – orange slice, slices of garlic, strong smelling cheese, coffee grounds, pickles, tuna, strawberries, cinnamon toast, popcorn
  • fragrant non-foods: toothpaste, a cotton ball with perfume, a clorox wipe (has some chemical smell but not enough to be bad to smell), dishwashing detergent, dog or cat food, a scented candle or air freshener, play-doh, a Band-Aid, pine needles, rose petals, lavender
  • spices or essential oils – dip a cotton ball in: cinnamon, curry powder, coconut oil, peppermint extract, lavender, vanilla, vinegar, rubbing alcohol
  • Candies (jolly ranchers, chocolate, peppermints)

You can use these in three different ways:

  • Pleasant or icky: kids smell and sort into baskets of “I like it” or “I don’t like it.”
  • Guess the scent (need to use opaque containers so they can’t see it). Have photos of the items in the containers. Kids smell the container, then place it on the picture of the item they think it matches. When they’re done, they can open the containers to check their answers.
  • Describe – ask them to describe the scent: include a sheet with vocabulary ideas like sour, sweet, sharp, tart, stinky, etc. (For older kids, teach scent specific vocabulary: Flowery, spicy, fruity, foul, burning, musky, citrus, herbal, sour, sharp, pungent, rancid, sweaty.)

In our class, we used spice bottles that they sorted into yummy and yucky, and had four dixie cups where they were asked to guess what was inside (toothpaste, pickle, cleaning cloth, and dog food).


Artificial scents: Bring in a variety of items with artificial scents. Do they smell like they’re supposed to? If something smells like food, does that mean it’s edible? If it’s a candy with a banana scent, then yes. But, if it’s lip balm, or a marker, or a scratch and sniff sticker, then no matter how much it smells like strawberries, it doesn’t mean it’s good to eat!

That smells bad! An interesting activity to put together would be bad smelling things: sour milk, over-ripe fruit, smelly permanent markers, sulfur, those “natural gas smell” cards that gas companies send out, bad smelling household chemicals…. be sure all the scents are safe to breathe in! Kids could smell them, and then talk about how bad smells can be a sign to us that something isn’t healthy for us to be around. The challenges with this activity would be to ensure there was nothing harmful about these scents. You’d also want to be able to get rid of the scents after the activity and not have them linger in the room!

Scent Memories: We know that certain scents can be very powerful in conjuring up memories for us. I’d love to come up with an activity that would play with that. I’m thinking a circle time activity where you’d open up a bag of fresh-popped popcorn and think about what memories you associate with that, or bring in some freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, and ask what the scent reminds you of… the trick would be to have a scent that would fill the room and evoke those memories.

Outdoor Time: On a hike outdoors, have children smell the air, the plants, the ground, etc. (If you can’t go outdoors, bring the outdoors in, and have a smelling station with pine needles, flowers, soil, and more.)

Other Activities

Whose Nose? One of the big ideas for kids to get is that we use our nose to smell with. This free guessing game PDF shows several animal noses. See if your child / students can guess which animal is which.


Sensory tables: In the water table, add fragranced bubble bath, rose water, or lavender essential oil. For the sensory table, make cloud dough; flour, vegetable oil, and cocoa powder… smells like brownies!

Experiment in Habituation / Adaptation: In one container, mix 1 tsp cinnamon and 4 tsp vanilla extract. In the other container, mix 1 tsp cinnamon with 4 tsp water. Sniff the cinnamon vanilla mixture till you can’t smell it anymore. 6 – 10 sniffs? Immediately sniff the cinnamon-water till you can’t smell it. Then immediately sniff the cinnamon vanilla. Your nose will not detect the cinnamon because you’ve tired out the nerves that detect cinnamon – but your vanilla sensors are now ready to smell vanilla. (Idea from Cobb’s book, described below.)

Snack Time: Have kids plug their nose, then taste something. Then unplug it and taste it again. Is the taste experience different? Here’s a fun experiment:

Share the ideas that smelling our food helps us enjoy it more. When we have a cold and our nose is plugged up, we don’t taste as much. Sometimes people lose their sense of smell due to injury or illness, and they enjoy food less.

Unsweetened Cocoa Use baker’s chocolate or cocoa powder. Have them smell it… mmm, chocolate! Then have them taste it. Yuck, bitter!!

Scent hike – tell about how animals use scent to track what they want to find. Tell them to imagine they are an animal that really loves to eat candy canes. As they go through the woods, they will search for the scent, and turn to follow it as they go. Then on the hike, everywhere you need to decide whether to turn right or left, place 2 dixie cups or scent bottles – one on the right hand path, one on the left. In one, have a cotton ball saturated in peppermint oil. In the other, have a plain cotton ball with no scent. They sniff both, and turn the way the peppermint tells them to turn. At the end of the hike, hand out mini candy canes to all.

Science of Smell: We smell something when it releases molecules into the air that we are breathing in – when the molecules reach the back of our nose, our brain interprets the scent to see if we can recognize it. Human beings recognize about 3000 – 10,000 odors, mostly either food cues or danger cues. There may be as many as 400,000 detectable odors. We smell through our nose, but we can also smell things we are holding in our mouths, as long as we don’t plug our nose… it’s the air circulation which brings the smell up into our nose. We smell things that are volatile – releasing molecules into the air. We don’t smell a metal object because it is not volatile.

Our sense of smell quickly habituates – when we first enter a room, we notice all the smells, but then over time our brain adapts to them and we stop noticing.

Our sense of smell protects us: we smell when something is burning so we can stay safe from fire. We notice when milk has soured and that prevents us from drinking the milk and getting sick.

More info for adults here: and here:

Skills to teach – Sniffing and Wafting. Kids know how to sniff. Do they know why it works? It is easier to detect scent molecules in swirling air than in a smooth flow of air. So if we just inhale through our nose, we smell a little. If we sniff in air in little puffs, we detect more of the odor.

Wafting is a good skill to teach . If they’re smelling something for the first time, they may not want to bury their nose in it and take in a deep sniff. Instead, they can cup their hand, and use it to scoop some of the air from above the object up to their nose.


Book: Follow Your Nose: Discover Your Sense Of Smell by Vicki Cobb. It’s for ages 8 – 10, so way too old for my class, but it was an engaging read for me as an adult that really helped to ground me in the science of smell, so I could then better teach the kids.

For lots of great books about the five senses for preschool to first grade level, check out this post.

Taste – Science for Kids

There are lots of fun taste science activities you can do with kids, but you can only do a few in any given class session without over-loading their bellies and taste buds. So, if you have a week with your kids in a home school, try one per day. If you’re only doing one session on this, pick just one or two ideas.

Taster bottles: We had five flavors of liquids: salt water for salty, sugar water for sweet, lemon juice for sour, soy sauce for umami, and baking cocoa mixed with water for bitter (you need to heat it a bit to dissolve the powder. Another bitter option would be to take black tea and brew it for a long time – 10 minutes or so – to make a really strong tea.) We had pipettes with each. We had an adult man the station, to minimize germ contagion (i.e. the child putting the pipette in their mouth, sucking sugar water out and putting it back in the container!) You could either ask children to tip their heads back and open their mouths and drip a few drops on their tongue. Or, you can put a few drops in a spoon and they drink it off the spoon. (Original idea from Gift of Curiosity, more ideas at Living Montessori Now.)  Ask them which taste they think it represents.

Another method for this would be: Use q-tips and water and powders. They dip q-tip in water, then in powder, then taste, then throw away q-tip. Powders: salt, sugar, baking cocoa (bitter), and powdered miso soup (umami), and True Lemon which is citric acid and lemon juice.

To extend this activity, you could also ask them “what foods taste sour [sweet, etc.]” and make lists of ideas. Or, you could take them to the kitchen and have them find foods for each category.

Tongue Mapping: Use the q-tips and powdered flavors exercise to have kids figure out what parts of their tongue are the most sensitive to various tastes. Here’s the science of it: and here are alternate methods: and and

Miracle fruit (aka miracle berry or miraculous fruit) is a small berry native to West Africa. After eating it, molecules bond to your tongue’s taste receptors and makes sour foods taste sweet – for example, it makes lemons taste like very sweet lemonade.

Amazon sells several Miracle Fruit Tablets you can try – they’re about $1.25 to $1.50 each so we did not use them in our class. After taking them, the effect will last ten to 70 minutes (for longest lasting effect, use dental floss to “scrape” your tongue ten times or so to minimize any coating on it, then when you put the tablet in your mouth, move it around as it dissolves so it comes into contact with all your tongue)

Foods to try with them: lemons, limes, grapefruit, oranges, cranberries, pineapple, kiwi, strawberries, raspberries, pickles, granny smith apples.

Snacks: Here are some ideas…

    • Taste testing apples: we had four varieties of apples. Children were asked to try a slice of each and decide what their favorite was, and try to describe the different tastes. This taught vocabulary like sweet, tart, juicy, crisp, sour, grainy.


    • You could do a wide variety of taste tests – compare four different types of goldfish crackers, or four citrus fruits, and so on.
    • Have four to five items, each representing a taste – raisins for sweet, pretzels or tortilla chips for salty, salsa for spicy, and granny smith apples for tart. (Could do vegemite or mushrooms for umami.) Kids were encouraged to taste each.
    • During snack time, encourage kids to try plugging their nose while eating to see if that changes their perception of how the item tasted.
    • Popcorn: kids were asked how many senses they use when eating popcorn. Can you smell it? Did you hear it popping? Now can you hear it crunching in your mouth? Can you see it – what does it look like? Can you taste it? Can you feel it – what does it feel like? (Note: the book Let’s Play a Five Senses Guessing Game ends with this activity, so the book and snack are a great pairing.)
    • Have each child bring in a favorite food to share.
Experiment: Which is strongest? Another taste idea: mix three to five cups with varying strengths of the same substance (for example, 100% juice; 75% juice / 25% water; 50/50, 25/75, 100% water). Have them taste each, and put in order from strongest to weakest.
Circle Time Activity – tell kids you’ll list off various foods. If they like it, they should stand up. If they don’t like it, they sit down.
Taste – to discuss: If we had more time, there’s more to discuss. For example, that not all things are safe to taste! (If you do a poisoning prevention curriculum, here’s a great place to bring it in.) Also, the idea that most things that aren’t safe to eat taste bad to us, so if something they thought was OK to eat tastes bad, they should ask a grown-up. But, on the other hand, some things that are good for us don’t taste good. For example, many bitter foods are full of healthy antioxidants, but kids tend not to like bitter tastes.
Why we need salt: A fun experiment to do someday over breakfast. Make oatmeal without any salt. Put on what should be plenty of sugar and have your child taste it. Is it sweet enough? No? Then sprinkle on and stir in just a little salt. Now is it sweet enough? Yes. A little salt helps your tongue taste the sweet. (This also works with hot chocolate. My son thought the hot chocolate in a cafeteria machine was too weak (i.e. not sweet enough) but discovered that if he adds a dash of salt, the hot chocolate tastes great.)
Book:  Your Tongue Can Tell: Discover Your Sense Of Taste by Cobb is for ages 8 – 10, so not something I would use in my class, but it was a great resource for me as a teacher in providing a detailed overview of the science of taste at a level one step up from one the kids can comprehend, but giving me a good base level of knowledge to answer any question they ask. Fun trivia: spicy hot is not a taste… it is an irritation of your pain sensors… it’s your sense of touch that tells you something is spicy. Minty thngs have menthol – they seem cool, even though they’re not.
More books and more info: I have an overview of the five senses and a review of lots of great kids books on the 5 senses at:

Sight – Kids’ Science Activities

We studied all five senses in one two hour session. But each one could be a week’s theme in itself. Or if you’re in a homeschool or in a five day a week school setting, you could do one sense per day.

Free Exploration Stations

Lenses: Put out a wide variety of items that you can look through: such as binoculars, magnifying glass, kaleidoscope, telescope, a mask with different colored lenses over each eye, a device where they could turn the wheels to see different colors, diffraction gratings, lenses that distorted things, or turned one image into twenty (bug eye lenses). Kids could just explore them, looking through them and discovering how they changed the view. (Optional: you could add an art project where they draw what they see….)


Light table and Lite Brite: We had a homemade light table (plastic tub with Christmas lights in it) and we put on it colorful plastic cups and clear plastic cups they could decorate with markers for imaginary people play.

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Visual gradient: Take 5 – 8 matching test tubes or glasses. Fill with water. Put one drop of food coloring (or liquid watercolor) in the first one, two drops in the second one and so on. Then mix up, and ask kids to re-sort them in order from lightest to darkest.


How does using your sense of sight help you use your other senses? On our five senses day, we also had some exercises of: can you recognize this taste without looking at what you’re tasting? Can you recognize the smell without looking in the container to see the item? Can you recognize a sound in a shaker without opening it to look?

Art projects

Spy glasses: We made some “binoculars” with toilet paper tubes, where we taped two tubes together, added strings for hanging them around our necks on the hike and decorated them. We also used just toilet paper tubes. We went for a hike in the woods. When you look at the world through a focused tube, it focuses your attention very differently, and you see things in a very different light than normal. (Really, adults… try this! It’s intriguing how it changes the details you see.)

Kaleidoscopes: We made kaleidoscopes by taking paper towel tubes, wrapping in wrapping paper (to make them prettier – optional). Then we took Dixie cups we’d cut the bottom off of so you could look through them. We taped saran wrap over one end, filled with some decorative stones, then taped saran wrap over the other end, then taped the cup onto the end of the tube. (Sorry I didn’t get a picture of a final product!)


Ways to improve this project for the future: I think it would have worked better to use the small plastic dip containers with lids rather than Dixie cups. They would have been sturdier and held items better than the saran wrap did. Also, I think lightweight confetti type items would be better than the heavy glass stones. (Note: if you want to make a more sophisticated kaleidoscope with a triangular mirror in the center to reflect the items, see Inna’s Creations’ post and

Guided Activity

Camouflage: We hid plastic dinosaurs in the woods. We were careful to hide the yellow ones near yellow fallen leaves, the green amongst holly and salal, and we hid the velociraptor – the one with stripes on its back under the sword fern.

On our hike, we reminded them of last week’s discussion of habitats. We explained how another way animals adapt to their habitats is they develop similar coloring to their surrounding so they’re harder to spot. We asked questions like “Can you see a polar bear in the snow? How about a giraffe? Could you see a giraffe in the snow? Where would be a better place for a giraffe to hide?” Then, we had them seek out the dinosaurs. They were surprisingly well hidden! Even the adults who hid them had a hard time finding them all! (Hint: make sure you count how many you put out, and take a picture of them! We’d found nine  out of ten and I couldn’t even remember which one was missing till I looked at the picture. Then I showed the picture to the kids and then they found the velociraptor under the sword fern.)



What if your sense of sight didn’t work? There are lots of things  you could do to explore this question with children. Turn off the lights, or  blindfold them. Then:

  • Play “listening tag”.  Put the blindfolded child in the middle of a circle. Ask the other children to be quiet. When you point at a child, they talk. The one in the middle points to where they think the talking person is. Then point to another child, and so on.
  • Play “wet rag on a stick.” If it’s a hot summer day, it’s hard to beat the loud, wet fun of this game. Make a circle of kids holding hands. Put a child in the middle with a blindfold. Give them a stick and then hang a sopping wet washcloth off the end of it. The circle of kids circles around the child shouting, calling their name, taunting (nicely). Then the child decides who to try to nail with the rag, and when ready, flings it. If they miss (or the kids dodge) they keep the blindfold on. If they hit, the kid who got hit is now it. (And is now sopping wet….)
  • Let them explore a safe obstacle course.
  • Have another child lead them around a room or outdoors.
  • Have them touch common objects and see if they can identify what they are touching. Or play instruments/noisemakers and see if they can identify what you’re using. Or have them smell things. Or taste things… All these things will illustrate how we use all our senses together to create a more nuanced view of what we’re experiencing.
  • Find a book like The Black Book of Colors that has braille writing (not just picture of braille letters – actual three dimensional braille.)


  • Where’s Waldo books or I Spy books give children a chance to practice spying things and looking at details closely.
  • There are LOTS of books on the 5 Senses. I review them all here.

More ideas

Sight day could be a great day to bring in some rainbow activities or have fun with light and shadow. For lots more ideas, including optical illusions, look here.