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I'm going to be doing a series of STEM story times for a local city program.  You might be interested in the activity stations, most of which use easy to obtain materials.

Because this is story time, I began and ended with books. For a recent STEM story time about senses, first I read Aliki's My Five Senses and Loud Lion, Quiet Mouse.

You can find more children's books about senses on our growing list at Science Books for Kids.

STEM Activity Station 1. Taste Test

Much of what we taste is based on what we see and what we smell, as well as what our taste buds tell us. Discover what happens when our sight gives us limited clues.

Caution:  Make sure no one has food allergies before carrying out this test.

Gather:

  • Small dishes or bathroom-sized cups
  • An apple, a pear, and a potato - or any white-fleshed fruits or vegetables that resemble each other visually
  • Knife (for adult use)
  • Bowl or pail for trash (optional)
  • Hand sanitizer (optional if sink present)
  • Paper and pen

Prepare three sheets of paper labelled 1, 2, and 3. Peel the fruit and potatoes. Cut enough dime-sized samples in roughly the same shape, enough for each participant plus a few extras for second tries, etc.  Place in the dishes or cups. Put all the apple samples on one sheet, the pear samples on a second sheet, and potato samples on the third.

Prepare a sign or explain:

Taste test:  Take one sample from number 1. Use your tongue to taste. Can you guess what food item it is? Now try samples from number 2 and number 3. Taste. Can you tell what food items they are?

If it is too easy, try to taste with your eyes closed and/or holding your nose.

For more ideas, check out our previous post on tongues and tasting.

STEM Activity Station 2. Smelling

Gather:

  • Opaque containers, such as bathroom-sized paper cups
  • Items with strong odors. Examples :
      • lemon juice and zest (soak juice into a cotton ball)
      • rosemary branches
      • nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves and other spices (used whole nutmeg)
      • dill
      • mint leaves (fresh)
      • garlic chives or onions (fresh)

In each container, place a small amount of a different item to smell. To keep younger participants engaged, prepare large examples or photographs of some of the plants and ask them to match the large examples to one of the unknown containers. If the stations are self-directed or parent/caregiver led, prepare signs.

STEM Activity Station 3:  Sight

Gather:

  • Glasses or viewers that distort sight, such as insect eye glasses, diffraction glasses, or kaleidoscopes.
  • Paper
  • Art supplies

Ask the children to look inside or through. What they see? Have them draw or paint what they see.

Extension 1:  Add other senses. Have them draw or paint to music.

Extension 2:  Discuss colors.

STEM Activity Station 4:  Touch

Make touch mystery boxes, plus supply objects for children to use their sense of touch.

You can find instructions for easy DIY touch and feel mystery boxes online, like this video.

Some objects to offer:

  • Pinecones
  • Silk scarf
  • Wax paper
  • Sand paper
  • Luffa sponge
  • Craft foam

STEM Activity Station 5:  Sound

1. Simply fill a tray full of objects and ask which make sounds. (Thanks to prekinders.com)

Suggestions:

  • Bells
  • Cat or dog toys, such as squeaky mice and jingle balls
  • Crinkly paper
  • Musical instruments, such as scrapers, castanets, etc.
  • Blow up a balloon with a metal nut inside.

Note:  Be careful with the balloon because popped balloons can be choking hazards. However, the way one little boy's eyes lit up when he shook the balloon and it began to sing was priceless.

2. Make some shakers using opaque containers, such as plastic eggs (Note:  Plastic eggs can be difficult to find at certain times of year, so I ended up using bottles that were originally bubble solution party favors.)

Fill the shakers with objects that make sounds like:

  • rice
  • beans
  • small washers
  • bells
  • balls

Fill one set with tea or cotton balls, to give a faint, muffled sound.

Troubleshooting: 

A. The original instructions suggesting sealing the egg shakers with electrical tape. The bottle lids fit tightly, so I wasn't concerned that they would fly off under vigorous shaking. What happened, however, was that the children wanted to see what was inside the shakers. Perhaps having the fillings on hand to show them would prevent you from having to disassemble the shakers like I did.

B. I filled pairs of shakers with the same item, then mixed them up and asked the children to find the two with the same sound.

This did not go as planned.

First of all, you must fill each with the exact same ingredients and amounts, or the sound will be a bit different (this fact could be used for experimentation with an older group).

Second, the children didn't seem to be able to discern any but the most different sounds (tea and screws). Perhaps the ability to discern subtle differences in sound isn't fully developed yet in preschoolers? What do you think?

3. Castanet party favors

One young man stacked the castanets to be a rainbow. Fun!

We ended our session with a rousing reading of Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar, who just happened to taste apples and pears (activity 1).

Visit our Pinterest Board for more science of senses activity ideas.