My Five Senses – Easy, Engaging Activities

My Five Senses is one of my favorite preschool lessons/themes because the children have so much fun while learning.  I usually like to extend it at least two weeks, so we can focus on one sense at a time, and we always begin with the sense of touch.

Since there are plenty of resources out there for related books andnprintables, this post focuses on a few quick hands-on activities.

Sense of Touch Mystery Bag


Sense of Touch Mystery Bag


-Any type of drawstring bag or pouch (fabric recommended)

-Assorted objects and toys to be identified by the children (at least three items per child for multiple turns and level of difficulty based on the age of the group). Examples from photo above:  puzzle piece, toy dinosaur, straw, spoon, comb, marker, rock, Lego, bean bag, cup, key, toy train, and magnifying glass.

-A blindfold (or individual blindfolds per child)

Note:  We usually play this game during circle time, and children always want to repeat it another day with a new set of objects (plus a few from the first game just to give others a chance to identify them).  It’s a game that can be used throughout the year just for fun after your Five Senses unit is over.


It’s a key!


-Taking turns, each child is blindfolded and reaches into the bag to pull out an object to identify only with his hands (sense of touch).

-To help solidify the concept of senses, the teacher reminds children that we are only using our hands and sense of touch to guess the object.

Sense of Smell Guessing Game


Sense of Smell Guessing Game


-A set of small plastic jars (my package of 6 were from the Dollar Store)

-Cotton balls

–A set of photo cards that correspond with the scents you will be using (I used Google images, inserted them into a document, printed them, and laminated).  Download a copy of my photo page below:

Five Senses – Sense of Smell Photos

-Assorted spices or scented foods/items you may have at home

Note:  The scents/photos I chose depicted items children would know and be able to identify.  Examples I used:  Italian seasoning blend to match a photo of a pizza; cinnamon/clove to match a photo of a gingerbread man (which we baked earlier in the year); onion powder to match photo of red onions on a salad; vanilla extract to match a photo of vanilla cookie; lemon juice/zest to match a photo of lemonade; and finally a little Dr. Bronner’s peppermint liquid soap (that we use in the classroom) to match the peppermint candy canes.    

-A blindfold (or individual blindfolds per child)

-A tray

Set-Up Process:

-Add small cotton ball (or cut large in half) to insert into jar

-Sprinkle a small amount of spices or scented liquid on cotton ball

-Drip a small amount of hot water over spices, so they will be wet and stay in place to prevent scattering or inhaling once opened.

-Cover and place in refrigerator overnight – take out and place on counter in morning to be at room temperature for your guessing game.

DSC09479 (2)

What does it smell like?

Play Process:

-Explain that you’ll be using only your sense of smell (nose) to guess the items.  Show the children the photo cards and name them to allow them to get a sense of what they will be identifying.

-One child at a time is blindfolded and the teacher shows the other children the photo/scent they will be guessing before opening the container and placing it under the child’s nose. Remind children beforehand not to say the word out loud, although this WILL happen.  We just say, “oops, let’s pick another one,” and remind children again to not give any clues.  We had six different scents, as our group has six children.

-Once each child has had one turn demonstrated by the teacher, you can then ask the children to take turns holding the scented container under a friend’s nose.  Participation by the children helps the waiting factor and increases the fun, as they are excited to help and find out what their friend will guess.

Math Extension:  Graphing favorite and least favorite scents.

Sense of Taste – Taste Test Experiment


Is it salty, sweet, or sour?

My group of preschoolers get excited about any type of experiment, so that’s what we called this taste test.  We conducted our experiment at our usual snack time.

After reading and talking about taste buds, we all took turns looking through magnfiying glasses at each other’s tongues.  I explained that our taste buds would help us find out which food item would be salty, sweet, or sour.  Can a food be more than one? Let’s find out!

(We skipped bitter, because no child wants to taste unsweetened cocoa powder.)


-A selection of foods (salty, sweet, sour) that are readily available and children would be willing to taste.  We used salty pretzels, sour/salty dill pickles, sour lemon slices, and sweet, raw honey.  (Once the children tasted the samples, they could have more pretzels or pickles for snack.)

-Individual plates for each child with equal portions


Sense of Taste Experiment – Salty, Sour, and Sweet Foods


Some children dive right in to taste an item, but others make faces or say, “eww” to new foods.  It is always their choice which items they want to try.  I try to make it fun and exciting by asking who will be the first to try something sour and then ask them which one they think it will be? It continues this way until some items have been tasted and categorized.

Math Extensions:

-Graph for listing favorite tastes = salty, sweet, sour

-Graph for listing which foods fall under the categories of salty, sweet, sour (if you have more than one food choice for each)

Other Quick & Easy Activities

Sense of Hearing:


-Have children take turns sitting with their backs to their classmates (blindfolded)

-One child will be chosen (touch their shoulder) to say “Hello and child’s name”

-The blindfolded child uses only their sense of hearing to guess the classmate

Variation:  Same game, only using a few musical instruments (drum, xylophone, maracas, triangle, etc.)  The blindfolded listener identifies the instrument.

Sense of Sight:

Eye See

-Take turns Playing Pin the Tail on the Donkey (or variations:  Pin the Nose on the Clown/Snowman) with blindfolds.  After child has a blindfolded turn, try it without blindfold to experience the difference sight makes.  Talk about how important your sense of sight is when attempting different tasks.  Try other tasks blindfolded: build a tower with blocks; put a puzzle together; or color a picture.  Also, how does their sense of touch come into play when they can’t see?

-Discuss Braille and blindness during this unit (and after discussing the sense of touch).  Request a book from the library that is written in Braille to allow children to close their eyes and feel the raised letters.









March Wind Activities – Preschool


Using Wind (Air) to Make Bubble Prints

Tell me and I forget.  Teach me and I remember.  Involve me and I learn.

(Benjamin Franklin)

What’s better than a coloring sheet depicting kites and March winds?  Simple activities that let children interact with the power of wind (air).  Set the stage by tapping into prior knowledge by asking, “What is wind?”  Most children will reply that, “it blows.”  They aren’t exactly sure what wind is (air), but soon they’ll find out  with these four simple wind activities to add to units on Weather, Spring, The Month of March, and more.

Outdoor Fun:  Plastic Bag Kites

Nothing illustrates the power of wind like a kite!  A quick and easy plastic bag kite is up and ready to go in minutes and provides so much fun for children.

DSC06766 (2)

Simple Plastic Bag Kite

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Plastic Bag Kites


Plastic grocery bags (check for holes)

String or Yarn (approximately 4-feet long)

Popsicle stick (as handle to wrap string around for easier handling, but not necessary)


-Gather the bag handles on one side (not the middle) allowing a larger air pocket and tie with yarn/string

-Tie the hanging end of string with a small loop for children to hold onto or tie around a Popsicle stick to create a handle (especially helpful for toddlers/young preschoolers).

Art Experience #1 (Easy, but Fun):  Painting with Air


Tempera Paints


Small containers for paint or droppers


-Children use straws to blow paint across paper in different directions.

-Children can experiment with applying paint to paper with small squeeze bottles or with droppers before blowing air through straws.

Note – We found the most successful results with dropping paint from droppers.  Squeezing paints, even from small bottles, produced big puddles of paint with less movement.

Art Experience #2:  Bubble Prints


Using Wind (Air) to Make Bubble Prints


Using Wind (Air) to Make Bubble Prints


Bubble Prints


-Mix a little bit of tempera paint (shown here) or liquid watercolors  for a more vibrant print into a small container or sturdy cup of half water

-Child blows air through straw into container/cup to make bubbles low or high

-Remove straws from container and lay a heavy piece of white construction or special heavy watercolor paper (more absorbent; keeps it shape) on top of bubble surface. Remove paper, turn over to dry.  Repeat.


-Could use as a color mixing Lesson.  We used red and blue, and where the bubbles overlapped, it turned light purple.  Yellow and Red or Yellow and Blue would create even more pronounced shading.

Indoor Fun (with Math Thrown in):  Cloud Race


Blue Painter’s Tape (to create non-stick lane lines)

Cotton Balls or Pom Poms


Table surface to use as track


-Create lines length- wise on a table.

-Place your cotton balls or pom poms on a beginning mark.

-Children blow air through straws to move their cotton ball across the table to the finish line.

-This is a fun and engaging activity that moves quickly as children race to set up the next cotton ball.  They continue to improve upon strategies to maneuver their target to the end.


-Use more than one cotton ball or pom pom.

-Try it blindfolded with a timer, and remove blindfold to see how far the target traveled or have a teacher or friend give one child at a time directions (left/right).

-Have painter’s tape marked with inches to keep track of distance traveled.

-Use this as a game to enhance another unit on spiders (black poms);  lady bugs (red poms); frogs (green poms); and so on.



Penguins are such an engaging topic for young children that they can be presented as a sole theme or as part of a unit on polar animals.

When presenting science/nature topics to children, I try to focus on a few main facts that will stick with the children or ignite an interest to explore more in the future.   I like to think that one day in elementary school, a subject will trigger a little memory of something they first learned with me in preschool.

Three Simple Facts to focus on:

–Emperor Penguins

Why?  They are unique and interesting to children because of  1) their size and 2) the fact that the father penguins are in charge of caring for their eggs/chicks while the mothers swim off for weeks at a time in search of food.

–North Pole vs. South Pole

Why?  A great way to introduce a globe and vocabulary words of locations like Arctic (North Pole) and Antartica (South Pole) and directional/positional words like Up/Down and Top/Bottom.

One of my favorite facts to share with little ones is that many of our favorite, well-known polar animals (polar bear, walrus, seals, beluga whales, Arctic fox, etc.) all live together at the North Pole (Arctic), but many our penguin friends live at the South Pole (Antartic).

A question to ask:  Why can’t penguins play with polar bears?  You’ll get many answers, such as polar bears would bite/eat the penguins (probably true), but it allows you to illustrate with your globe that polar bears live way at the very top of the world (North Pole), and penguins live way at the very bottom of the world (South Pole).  It is definitely a fact that clicks with children and stays with them.

–Penguins are Birds (but can’t fly)

Why?  Introduction to common bird traits — wings (but can’t fly), lay eggs, and they feed their babies through regurgitation (a wonderful vocabulary word that brings lots of “ewwwws”).

Three Favorite learning activities that leave an impression:

1.  Math:  Measure/Compare children’s size/height with life-size Emperor Penguin and/or average penguin.

emperor penguin

2:  Science:  RESCUE THE PENGUINS!   from an iceberg (individual icebergs or group cooperative activity) using salt, salt water and friction (paint brushes) to melt the ice.   Wrapping Up the Activity:  Some children will work a long time on this project (45 minutes or more), while others may drop out after 15 or 20 minutes, but often will circle back to the activity.  If it is time to wrap up the activity due to time constraints, and the penguins are half-exposed from the ice: the teacher may ask children what else they should try OR “think out loud” that maybe warm water will melt the ice faster.  Pouring a bit of hot water from the tap will usually release the individual penguins and satisfy those who worked so diligently.



Individual Icebergs (frozen in cups, inverted in bowls to catch liquid)


Group Activity – Free the Penguins


Group Activity – Free the Penguins


Group Activity – Penguins in a Block of Ice


-Freeze penguin figures in individual plastic cups or large container overnight using food coloring or Liquid Watercolors to tint water.  Remove a few minutes before using to allow ice mold to release.  Large Classrooms:  this activity can be placed in your sensory table to allow different groups at a time work on this project over the course of the day.

-Provide salt, cups, droppers, mini squeeze bottles, and paint brushes as tools to help release the penguins.  For larger group project, we used spoons toward the end to help chisel the penguins out.  We did not use spoons for individual projects, as there would be less science involved and more whacking at the ice, possibly sending everything flying.

Supplies needed:

3. Sensory / Loose Parts / Dramatic Play

Crayola Model Magic is a different kind of dough experience.  When fresh out of the package, it is light and somewhat stiff.  It can be pulled apart in chunks.  Once warmed, it is pliable and can be stretched for fun.  In this invitation to play, children use the Model Magic as snow, floating icebergs, and caves for penguins and/or polar animals.  Gems are added for interest and often result in bodies of water for the animals.  Little footprints are left in the dough as the animals move about.


Crayola Model Magic Dough, Gems, Polar Animals and Globe

polar animals and snow dough

Creating Caves and Floating Icebergs with Polar Animals (Although penguins and other animals live on separate poles, children are immersed in their own play.)

Supplies needed:

  • Crayola Model Magic (white) –  *Frugal Tip:  can often be found at Michael’s or JoAnn Fabrics.  You may find them on sale occasionally, but for best savings use a 50% off or other coupon off the full price.  
  • Toob of Penguins and/or Polar Animal figures *see Frugal Tip above
  • Gems or other ice-like loose parts

Learning Goals:

  • Science:  Awareness/Experimentation of liquids/solids (water can be both); the affect of warmth/heat (temperature) on ice; making predictions
  • Math:  Size comparisons/measurement
  • Geography:  Pole locations and Continents

Theme extenders and tie-ins:

  • Polar Animals
  • Winter
  • Continents

Updated Post:  2/8/19

Books Used with these Activities:

book peng

book emp


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Animal Tracks (in the Snow)

Here in Rhode Island we have pretty snowy winters, so this is my variation on the themes of Forest Animals and Animal Tracks that other schools might introduce in the muddy season of spring.  The day after a fresh fallen snow, my small suburban backyard is covered in tracks; birds, squirrels, rabbits, and possibly a neighborhood cat or other animal.  Young children often wouldn’t even notice these everyday happenings if not for introducing the topic of animal tracks.  Examples from my backyard:

My approach to teaching young children is not to try to cram in all the possible information or projects I can surrounding each topic, but to choose a few basics that will leave a lasting impression and possibly spark an interest in learning more in the future.  At the very least, I hope that when they visit these subjects again in elementary school, they will remember a little bit about what they learned in preschool.

A favorite hands-on activity:  

Tracks in the Snow


Supplies Needed:

  • Safari brand Toob Animals (we used North American Animals and also used some Arctic Animals later)
  • Crayola Model Magic – White                                                                                            Frugal Tip:  Wait for a 40-50% discount coupon to Michael’s or other craft store to purchase a large tub at a discount, rather than individual packages.  For about $12.50, you’ll get about 5 packages in the tub.   This also works for the Safari brand Toobs, although they occasionally go on sale for half price.

Options – you can also use any type of homemade or store bought play dough you have on hand.  However, I love to introduce this type of dough during the winter months.  It has a different, light-weight texture and really holds the animals’ footprints and shows them in more detail than a softer dough.  Because Model Magic can be allowed to dry, we often use it for Christmas ornament projects and for making homemade snowmen to take home.  It does get drier each time you use it, even if you store it carefully, so it is a one time per year purchase and seasonal experience for my students.  

Some of my favorite books for this theme:

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Themes vs. Topics

fire sheet

Using themes in early childhood education is a way to highlight a subject and provide a framework in which to organize classroom activities in all areas; including math, literacy, science, dramatic play, and more. Themes can be broad, such as Community Helpers; or narrow and focused on one type of community helper: Firefighters.   In fact, I have used the word theme as a header on this blog, because teachers are familiar with this method of subject organization.

The trouble I have with the idea of themes currently is that the focus has shifted mainly to themed worksheets or decorative elements being designed, sold, or teacher prepared.  While crafty teachers might enjoy these projects, it sets up an expectation that daycare providers or preschool teachers must include these items to have a proper “theme.”  However, firefighter coloring sheets, firefighter handwriting sheets, and firefighter counting sheets, don’t add much more to children’s understanding of the subject other than reinforcing a visual reminder of the theme.

Three years ago I switched over to using the word Topics to describe what we would be focusing on in my home-based preschool program.  I feel that using this terminology sets the stage for the books we will be reading; the displays that will be found in the science area; the songs we will sing; and most importantly, what we will be talking about and learning together.  I love when a child walks in the door on Monday and says, “What are we talking about this week?”  The children’s curiosity sets the stage for in-depth learning.

My monthly information sheet (Blog Post Coming Soon: Preschool Newsletters), lists the topics by week, yet they are often tied to a larger theme or topic.  For example, at the beginning of the month, we will talk about the topic of insects.  Each week following, we will delve into a specific insect; such as ladybugs, butterflies, and worms.  Our month-long focus will be insects, but I will not print out worksheets with cartoon insects all over them to create my theme.  Instead, there will be insects to observe with magnifying glasses: an insect bingo game to play; insect puzzles to complete; some butterfly wings in the dramatic play area; tons of books to read aloud and look through individually; and more to add layers to our topic (Coming Soon: Layering Your Lesson Plans).

Using the word topic with children introduces them to a broader concept in a concrete way.  Someday they will research topics at the library or engage in interesting topics during conversations with others. Themes, however, will help them plan a fun party with matching cake, invitations, and decorations.

Most likely, I’m not the inventor of using topics as a basis for teaching young children, but I like to thing of myself as a bit of a trailblazer by deviating from the majority and adopting a personal teaching style that works for me in my program.

I’d love to hear what you think of using topics over themes.  Please remember to be kind; we’re all here to learn from each other!



Salad Spinner Painting

spin art galaxy 2


Salad spinner painting is such a simple, yet engaging activity for young children. You don’t need any special materials or major preparation.  Children practice many important skills, and have fun while doing it!

You can tie this activity in with many different themes, depending on the colors and shapes used (Easter eggs, Valentine  hearts, 4th of July, snowflakes, etc.).  Photos on this page are from our Space and St. Patrick’s Day themes.  I wanted to tie-in color mixing the first time we tried this; which explains why we used red, blue, and yellow paint for shamrocks!  We can’t wait to try it for Earth Day using shades of greens and blues.

Supplies needed:

  • Salad spinner – Ikea has an inexpensive option that works well, but we used an older one we had on hand
  • Tempera paints or any other types you want to use up
  • Children’s Scissors
  • Card stock is best for this project (heavier/firm weight plus absorbent)  Tip:  I purchase in advance when on sale at craft stores like Michael’s or JoAnn’s.  Recycled Materials:  Old file folders can be used in place of card stock
  • or Water color paper

spin art galaxy 3

spin art galaxy









Age/Developmental Levels:

  • Beginner – Adds shape to spinner, squirts paint, spins handle
  • Intermediate – child cuts out traced shape, adds to spinner, squirts paint, spins handle
  • Advanced – Child traces and cuts out own shapes , adds to spinner, squirts paint, spins handle

Skills/Learning Goals:

  • Fine/Gross Motor – large arm movements – squeezing paints, turning spinner handle, tracing and cutting out shapes
  • Science:  Awareness/Experimentation with centrifugal force and color mixing (if desired)

Theme tie-ins (endless):

  • Shamrocks, St. Patrick’s Day
  • Space, Solar System, Galaxy, Planets
  • Earth Day
  • Snowflakes, Winter
  • Hearts, Valentine’s Day
  • Easter, Easter Eggs

spin art shamrock2



spin art shamrock

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Paint Scrapers – Rainbow Colors


Supplies needed:

  • Patterned Paint Scrapers – We loved our sets of four (4) variations of paint scrapers because they were well-made, durable, and washable to be used over and over again.  Each colored scraper was a different pattern, so it was easy for the children to pick and choose.  Frugal Tip:  Parents or teachers of small groups could make their own using cardboard and scissors (patterned or not); but for larger groups or the non handy/crafty teachers like me, these are well worth the purchase.
  • Tempera paints work best for this activity (or small acrylic craft paint bottles for smaller hands)
  • Water color paper is my first choice, as it is absorbent and will highlight the colors
  • Card stock will also work, but create an alternate effect of much of the paint sitting and drying on the surface, adding texture
  •  Tip:  I purchase card stock in advance when on sale at craft stores like Michael’s or JoAnn’s 


Age/Developmental Levels:

  • Beginner– squirts paint, experiments with paint scrapers (limit number of paint colors (3 maximum) and offer only one type of scraper at first (you can offer more later if child continues interest).  For younger children, use smaller bottles of paint, as they tend to love the squeezing part and end up with too much paint to use effectively.
  • Intermediate– squirts paint, experiments with paint scrapers (offer more paint colors and scraper options)
  • Advanced– squirts paint, experiments with variety of paint scrapers, types of paper, and many paint colors


Skills/Learning Goals:

  • Fine Motor – squeezing paints, manipulating paint scrapers for different results
  • Science:  Color mixing (using specific colors for desired results), Absorbency of different paper materials
  • Preschool Math – experimenting with patterns

Theme tie-ins Pictured (but limitless):

  • Rainbows (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple)
  • Easter, Easter Eggs (pastel shades – we used small bottles of craft acrylic so children could squeeze their own bottles, rather than mixing our Tempera primary colors)



Best Preschool Egg Hunt


The best egg hunt for preschoolers is one that is simply fun with no fighting, complaining, or disappointments.  Ways to accomplish this perfect egg hunt?

  1. Limit the amount of eggs per child
  2. Each child searches for an assigned color
  3. Do not fill the eggs
  4. Let children turn in their eggs for a treat bag

I’ve tried all types of egg hunts, this has been my favorite for four year straight. The children are excited, happy, and content! What more can you ask for?

Why does it work so well?

  1.  Assigned colors (chosen or randomly picked) give children a mission and a focus.  It eliminates that overwhelming feeling of having to grab every  egg they see.
  2. Limiting the number (we do 10) allows children to search just long enough that it doesn’t become boring or exhausting.  It also encourages them to stop every so often to count how many eggs they have and how many they still need to find.  (As a teacher, this is one of my favorite parts — counting practice that is initiated by  children).
  3. Empty eggs – egg finding is the goal, not stopping to check each egg and being excited/disappointed with contents or the fact that you are not finding the same types of fillings as the other children.  Empty eggs are also fun to hide again for each other once all 10 have been found.  In my experience, the children invent their own games to play with the empty eggs and often ask to take their eggs home.
  4. When all the eggs have been found (and outside play time is over), we head indoors to get our identical treat bags.  I usually fill them with 10 identical items — one for each egg found. (Another Option:  The first year I numbered all the eggs and then gave them a number of specific treats based on the number, so they could practice number identification and one-to-one correspondence.  For example, #1 was one tiny notebook, #2 was two sharpened pencils, #3 was three small pages of stickers, and so on, but I found it difficult to continue each year.)


More tips for a perfect egg hunt:

  1.  Have a basket of each color to match the eggs the children will find.
  2.  Start the hunt with one egg in each basket to help children remember which color they are searching for.
  3. Remind children of rules before hunting:  find only your color; do not pick up other colors; only help a friend if he/she wants help (remind them that we all like to find our own eggs)
  4. Once a few children have found their ten, ask the remaining children if they would like their friends help them find their eggs.  This provides help for younger children or those becoming frustrated.
  5. Recycled Materials Tip:  The same baskets (and most of the eggs) can be used each year.  A few children have asked to take home their eggs the last two years, so a few color sets had to be replaced.  Plastic eggs are readily available on sale after Easter, so why not?

Treat bag ideas (non-edible):

  • Wikki Stix (always a favorite or other crafty obect – individual play dough, set of crayons/markers)
  • writing object (sharpened pencils are my favorite – can be used right away)
  • small spiral notebook
  • cute figure of some type (duck, chick, animal)
  • cute holiday socks (inexpensive and useful to families)
  • themed stickers
  • reusable bag or container to hold items to bring home
  • card game or book
  • one parent-approved snack, such as organic fruit gummies or  crackers
  • one tiny chocolate bunny (because to me that says Easter)!