University of Illinois Extension
Skipnavigation Nibbles ... Ideas for Families

Kids & Food
Help Your Child Succeed
Your Child's Health
Challenges of Parenting
Learning to Get Along
Playtime Is Fun Time
The Day Care Routine

Teaching Children about the Five Senses

As a child's first teacher, a parent has many important concepts to teach including how to use the five senses to learn about the world. This concept called "sensory development" can be simple to teach just by trying the following suggestions that use things you might find around the house.

The sense of touch
Children can become more familiar with their sense of touch by playing with materials like homemade or store bought modeling dough, clay, water, sand, uncooked rice and gelatin. Find good places for these "messy" activities and use old shower curtains under the "work" so clean up is easier.

One game that parents can play is to take an empty pillowcase and place familiar objects inside. Let children, one at a time, try to guess what the objects are. Parents can help children describe how each object feels. This game can be varied by using seasonal/holiday items in the bag or by using items with a theme such as shapes or animals.

The sense of sight
Parents can help children focus on their sense of sight by placing four or five familiar objects on a tray. Give children one minute to look at all of the items and then cover the tray and ask the children to share what they saw on the tray. As children get used to this game, they will begin to focus more on the objects so that they are able to share when the tray is covered again.

The sense of taste
Children can learn to identify foods by taste with this activity. Parents just need to gather up different foods (like peanut butter, banana, raisins, etc.) and have children cover their eyes as they taste each one. After they taste a food, have them guess what they tasted. Giving children the words they need to describe different tastes such as sour, salty, sweet, fruity, etc. to help them understand the meaning of the words.

The sense of smell
Parents can teach children how to identify foods and other household items by smell. Start by gathering a variety of items with different odors such as a lemon, pickles, flowers, grass, soap, etc. Cover children's eyes and have them smell each thing and guess what it is.

The sense of hearing
Parents can help to develop a sense of hearing and listening by helping children listen to objects and animals. You can cut pictures of animals and everyday household items out of magazines and glue the pictures on paper. Then use a tape recorder to record sounds of these objects and animals. Encourage children to point to the appropriate picture as each sound is played.

Prepared by Lisa McMurtry, Extension Educator, Family Life.