My son Anton loves to play sensory games.
He usually asks me to play with him when he is sitting on the toilet after we’ve brushed his teeth.
But to be honest, sometimes I feel like:
“Noooooo, the color game again!!! I want to go and read my book…”
… but then I suck it up because I know how beneficial it is.
The results are always worth the small effort.
Playing these simple games helps my son calm down.
The games also develop concentration skills.
Calm is obviously pretty neat at bedtime.
Calm is contagious
As a big bonus, sensory games calm me down, as well.
I feel less anxious when I play a sensory game, and my mental state is reflected by my son.
And truthfully, I enjoy the game as soon as we start playing.
Focusing on my senses, even just for a minute or two, gives me a break from to-do lists, worries, and whatever it is I think I should be doing at that moment.
This is awesome at bedtime since I’m often a little anxious to get my son to sleep so that I can finally go do my grown-up things.
I wonder if anyone else has ever felt like that? ;-)
When we play, we’re both calmer and there’s less fuss—and I get to go read my book sooner, too :)
Smelly Mindfulness Games
Knowing that my son likes sensory games, I introduced a new sensory game called “Smell And Tell.”
The idea is to let your kid smell different scents, with eyes closed or covered by a beanie.
What I did was I hid five jars with different familiar smells.
I did the hiding part to get him excited about the game.
This backfired a little since he was so excited after looking for the jars that he wanted to fast forward through all the scents as fast as he could.
“Yesss! I know this … it’s COFFEE! NEXT SCENT.”
“Tea! Tea! Tea! NEXT.”
Not what you’d think a calming mindfulness activity looks like :-)
Okay … so it took a little while for us to slow down.
I told him to take his time and to really enjoy the scents—feel the nuances.
“Does the tea smell a little sweet?”
“How is it different to coffee?”
The smells that were tougher to recognize (like cocoa) slowed him down too.
We ended up having a blast, and he wanted to play again.
We did the same five scents again … and then he wanted me to come up with some more.
I had no more ideas for new scents so I asked if he wanted to play with mommy.
Luckily, he wanted to guide mommy through the game right away.
So, Hanna got to play too.
She had a hard time recognizing cocoa …
…when she smelled it she guessed it was:
I took it as a compliment.
I like the idea of my socks smelling like cocoa.
I don’t think they do, but I like the idea.
It turned out my wife was really good at the game. She was even able to recognize the exact tea that I had chosen (Emperor’s Bride).
I chose five familiar smells for this first game:
But to be honest, after that I was out of smelly ideas.
So, to help you expand the game, I made a list of smelly and safe ideas—and a full description of the game.
Here it is:
Mindfulness Activity For Kids: Smell & tell
Purpose: Sensory Awareness, Focus, Calm
Best for ages 4+, groups or one-on-one
What you need: Items with varying scents, small containers, optional; a beanie/knitted cap for a blindfold (not necessary if your kid agrees to keep eyes closed).
Choose several items with different scents. I recommend a minimum of five. Even with five scents, the game was too short for my son.
If possible, keep the scents as natural as possible. Think about using things such as a fresh flower, fresh or dried herbs, citrus peels, grass, etc.
Fill small containers with the items. Muffin liners are great!
Old cleaned spice containers, baby food jars, and paper cups work well too.
I recommend that you cut five little paper cups in half and put a little food or whatever you choose in each.
If you’re using something wet like essential oils for the scents, then go with plastic cups or glass.
Have your child close his eyes and inhale the scent carefully while focusing only on what he is smelling. Do not encourage him to touch the item, as that may distract his sensory experience.
Talk about what he smells and how that smell makes him feel or what it reminds him of.
Talk about the differences in the scents. Is something sweet? Does it smell fresh or yucky?
Smell is a powerful emotional tool and can be an incredible calming and centering aid for mindfulness.
If you use edible foods for the scents, then you can end the activity with a snack. Yum!
More smelly ideas:
Cocoa (or daddy’s socks ;-)
Have fun! I hope that you enjoyed these ideas.
May you be happy & healthy,
PS Be careful with spices since inhaling peppers and fine powders can be a health risk!
If you are new to mindfulness with children we recommend our online courses: Get notified here!
Chris Bergstrom is the co-founder of BlissfulKids.com and a dad who is thrilled to practice mindfulness with his son. He is a certified mindfulness facilitator, and trained to teach mindfulness to students in K-12. He’s also an executive consultant, and has taught meditation for more than 10 years.