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Earlier this month we enjoyed a Five Senses Unit at the School of Mommy. This unit is a classic and there are really endless possibilities for activities to explore each of the five senses. This was also a great unit to engage Ms. S our two year old, alongside Mr. J. who is 5 years old. Mr. J actually turned 5 years old when we started the unit. His 5th birthday made the “five” senses extra exciting for him.
Introducing the Subject
We again used a BrainPop Jr. video to introduce the topic but there are also some great free videos as well that we used throughout the week that I'll link to below! After watching the video we recapped what we learned and counted and recited the five senses; touch, taste, sight, smell and hearing.
Letter Sound of the Week and Sight Word of the Week:
Our letter sound of the week was “t” as in taste, touch, tomato, and tiger. Our sight word of the week was “me.”
Our number of the week was 5 for the five senses and Mr. J’s 5th birthday!
We read My Five Senses by Aliki. The book is a beautifully illustrated and simple introduction to the five senses. That said, I do think it was a bit too simple for Mr. J who is 5 years old but it was perfect for Ms. S, our two year old. I’d say the book is appropriate for 2-4 year olds.
Later in the week, we also read the book I am Helen Keller by Brad Meltzer. This book was an excellent introduction to Helen Keller and explained Keller’s visual and hearing impairments, which can be a bit scary for young children, in a clear but sensitive, empathetic way. Some pages even included braille for the kids to feel and there were lots of opportunities in the book for us to pause and discuss what we had read. I’m glad I purchased this book because we’ll absolutely be returning to it many times over the years. The book is appropriate, in my opinion, for K-2nd grade but even Ms. S sat quietly through the whole book and appreciated the illustrations. I highly recommend it!
Special Note: The Helen Keller book enabled us to bring a social justice lens to the 5 senses lesson by discussing differences in physical abilities and touch on disability rights. The book lended itself well to return to our conversations about similarities and differences which is how we first explored the issue of race. We talked about that no matter what differences our bodies may have, we all deserve love and kindness.
Putting Our Knowledge to Practice
Each day of the unit we took a deeper dive into each of the five senses.
Sense of Touch:
We watched this Smile and Learn video about the sense of touch and then talked about what we learned. Our skin has nerve endings and touch receptors to allow us to feel things with our skin. The nerve endings send messages to our brain through our body to tell us how something feels. It can tell us if something is hot or cold, if something hurts and how an object feels. The brain also sends messages back telling us to move our hand if something hurts.
"It Feels" Activity
For sense of touch, I printed out some images of hands on a paper and glued on different textured materials onto each hand. Some material ideas are, sandpaper, a strip of velcro, a cotton ball, packing tape, a piece of cellophane, small puffy stickers to make a bumpy texture, a feather, a piece of cellophane, tin foil, etc. The kids felt each hand and used a descriptive word to describe how the material felt. The cotton ball felt “fluffy” for example and the velcro felt “rough.” I've since improved the design and created a printable you can use at home! You can print and download the free printable here!
Guess the object
I also put objects in an empty tissue box and had the kids feel the objects inside and guess what it was. We did a feather, a crayon, a small ball, and a triangular magnet tile.
Sense of Sight:
For this sense we began by viewing this Smile and Learn video about how our eyes work. Our eyes go through a complicated process to perceive sight. The whole system was a bit over Mr. J’s head but he was able to grasp the basic concept that our eyes act like cameras to see the world and send the “pictures” to our brain. We discussed some different parts of the eye that we can see, namely the iris and pupil.
Optical Illusion activity:
To explore sight we made a classic Victorian Toy, a thaumatrope! Thaumatropes take two pictures and blend them together in our minds when spun due to the persistence of vision. I explained the kids that we were basically “tricking” our eyes into thinking there’s one picture instead of two because the images are moving so fast.
Materials You’ll Need:
A straw or wooden stick (an unsharpened pencil would probably work too!)
Trace two circles for your pictures on cardstock.
Cut them out and stack them on top of one another. (We didn’t do this the first time and the pictures on the discs didn’t align perfectly for Mr. J’s artwork.)
Draw your first picture, the “container.” Some ideas are a bird cage or a vase. I used the classic fish bowl. Press down hard when you’re drawing so that it creates an imprint of your drawing on the second circle.
Then draw your second photo on the second disc. The trick here is you want to draw the object inside the impression you made. I drew a fish to go inside my fish bowl. Mr. J drew flowers in his vase!
Glue the images onto a stick or straw. We used a paper straw.
Once the glue is dry, rub the stick between your palms to spin the drawings and watch the magic happen!
Some other ideas could be a circle on one side, face on the other, a tree and grass. There are so many possibilities! If you try this at home, send us a message to share your thaumatrope with us or tag us on Instagram!
Sense of Hearing:
For sense of hearing, we watched this SciShow video on sound. This was also a bit of a complicated system to explain to a five year old but he understood it by breaking it down into pieces in a simplified way. I explained that hearing is how we perceive sound. It's how our ears take sound waves and turn them into something our brain can understand. Sound (as invisible waves) enters our ear canal and hits our eardrum which makes the eardrum vibrate. The signals move from our eardrum to a tiny bone inside our ears called the cochlea. The cochlea then helps to carry the message from our ear to our brain to understand sound.
We did several quick and easy experiments to explore the sense of hearing and sound.
Guess that Sound
I first blind folded both kids with eyes masks I had from our travels. I then made different noises and asked them to sit quietly and listen carefully to guess what I was doing. I opened a door, opened and closed a zipper, poured water in a glass, and opened and closed a kitchen drawer and baby gate. So simple but the kids had so much fun and it was a great exercise in sitting still and quietly to concentrate.
Water Glass Xylophone
We started with a classic kitchen science experiment, we made a water xylophone! All you need is water, food coloring, water glasses (sturdy glasses) and spoons or bamboo sticks. We first tapped our water glasses while empty to determine that each empty water glass made the same sound. We then filled each glass to varying levels and added a drop of food coloring to each glass to make it colorful and make it easier to see the different water levels. Then we gently tapped each glass with spoons. We listened carefully to hear the difference in the notes produced by each glass and I challenged the kids to determine which note was the highest and lowest. (Pro Tip: more water equates to a lower note, less water a higher pitch.) Then they continued to make “music.” This entertained them for quite some time!
On the fly, I remembered the wine glass trick my dad showed me when I was a kid so we tried making our own glass harp next. Here, we poured the contents of the water glasses into wine glasses and then dipped our fingers into the wine glass and gently rubbed around the rim of the wine glass. Mr. J was AMAZED by the sound it created. Again we noted how adding more or less water changed the sound.
We finally, placed our hands gently on our necks to feel the vibrations our voices create when we’re talking, singing or humming, to help us further understand how Helen Keller would use her sense of touch to feel sound.
Sense of Taste
For an introduction to the sense of taste, we watched this quick free video. We discussed what we learned. To start we looked at our tongues in the mirror and examined the little bumps known as papillae. I explained that papillae contain our taste buds which send messages from our tongue to our brain to explain how things taste. We learned that different areas of our tongue are responsible for tasting different tastes. The basic tastes are salty, sweet, bitter, and umami. We also noted how our sense of smell also plays a part in how me taste, which is why when we have a stuffy nose from a cold, sometimes food doesn’t taste the same.
I prepared a spread with each of the 5 tastes. Then we took a taste and described the flavors of each food.
Strawberry tasted sweet
Lemon tasted sour
Lettuce tasted bitter
Unsalted cashews tasted umami (savory)
Our last activity involved tasting everything again while holding our noses. That got lots of giggles!
Bonus: this was the first time Mr. J willingly ate a piece of lettuce and to my surprise said it tasted good!
Mr. J is always curious about spicy foods so we also watched this SciShow kids video to explain that concept. Again, after we watch a video, we always discuss what we learned.
Sense of Smell
For sense of smell, we began by watching this short Smile and Learn video. Our nostrils take in smells into our nose where they travel up the nasal cavity to the olfactory membrane. The olfactory membrane connects to the olfactory nerve which transmits the signal to our brain about how something smells.
Guess the Smell
For our sense of smell activity I placed several items with distinct scents into bowls. I used a lemon, maple syrup, cinnamon, a banana and tuna fish. I then covered the bowls with tin foil and used a toothpick to poke a few holes in each. Then I had the kids take turns smelling each container to guess the scent. The tuna fish got lots of funny faces and laughs!
Artist of the Week
Our artist of the week was John Bramblitt, who is a visually impaired painter. Stay tuned for the full art lesson plan which included using Bramblitt’s technique of raised lines to feel his drawing while painting, as well as, an exercise in blind contour drawing.
Have you done a 5 senses unit? What was your family’s favorite activity?