Last but not least, smell is the most frequently overlooked sense but may be the most powerful in terms of evoking memories. Have you ever walked in a pine forest? Danced in the rain? Tilled fresh earth? Harvested sun-warmed peaches? If you have, just the mention of those experiences brings back a memory of their unique aromas. Conversely, encountering those aromas can bring back memories of the times you experienced them.

I have only to smell a turkey roasting, and my mouth begins to water. Instantly I am back in my grandmother's kitchen, and I can see everything else that's on the table--her china pattern, the best glasses, the relish tray. I can tell you who was there for the holiday meal and remember the things we said and did on that day. All of those related memories are attached to one simple olfactory cue.

The sense of smell can also be valuable in providing primary information, if we're paying attention. For example, doctors tell us that some diseases have a very characteristic odor. They can sometimes use the smell of the sickroom as an important clue to diagnosis. Chicken pox does not smell the same as strep any more than a rose smells like a marigold. While olfactory input may not be conclusive, it can provide good hints. We can smell rain on the wind a long time before we hear the thunder.

I grew up near the southern border of Texas. Spring, to me, smelled like tortillas because the wind shifted and blew from the south at about the same time warm weather forced the ladies across the border to take their hot cooking functions outside. I still associate the smell of tortillas baking with the coming of spring.

The ocean has a distinct smell, as does an oil field.

Try to include and call attention to olfactory elements whenever possible, because the sense of smell holds bits of information together like Super Glue!


The activity I have in mind for this lesson on smell is actually a wrap-up for this entire module. Please take the time to do it!

Here's what to do:

Select a color, a season or holiday, or something intangible (for example "love" or "sunshine").

Instead of defining the word in a traditional sense, ask for ideas about:

  • what it would look like
  • what it would sound like
  • what it would feel like
  • what it might taste like
  • and what it might smell like.

When I've used this activity as a writing prompt for high school writing classes, the results were amazing! My students came up with wonderful, rich, insightful sensory relationships.

One student said red tasted "juicy, like watermelon or a sun-ripened strawberry." Another student said red sounds like an emergency siren. One said sunshine felt like getting caught in a gentle rain of happiness and that the first day of summer smells like the beach.

Unless I very much miss my guess, you'll be blown away by the vivid creativity of your children's sensory associations! This one activity convinced me of the power and appeal of multi-sensory learning.

Complete and Continue