Setting up a sensory observation lab
We are born scientists. From birth children can see, smell, hear, touch, and taste. Observations made with our senses are the foundation of scientific inquiry. So that is where we start…
This activity can be done with children of any age. With very young children, it works best and is safest when an adult sits with one child and models the actions alongside them. When working with a large group provide enough objects so that no more than two children have to share an object. Record observations on chart paper or board. If children are old enough to write their own observations, use the worksheet instead.
- Choose something to observe: This should be something that will attract children’s attention. Do not hesitate to choose something familiar, but do make sure it has an intriguing sensory element. Some suggestions: A beet fresh pulled from the garden; a fossil rock; a flashlight; a hermit crab; a clear glass of water
- Place the object on a surface that highlights or contrasts with it and the surrounding surface so that the eye is drawn to it, such as a piece of paper, a tray or mat.
- Gather your children around the object and ask questions like the following that focus on the sensory elements.
Sensory Observation Questions
SIGHT Before touching look at the object
- What colors do you see?
- What shapes do you see?
- What lines do you see?
- Are there any special markings?
- Does it move?
- What is unique about it?
- How do you think it feels?
- How do you think it smells?
TOUCH Pick up the object and rub fingers over it
- is it rough or bumpy or smooth or both??
- Is it hard or soft or both?
- is it wet or dry or both?
- Is it sharp or dull or both?
- Does it have moveable parts?
- What other textures do you feel?
SMELL Pick up and hold object about 2-4 inches from the nose
[Safety note: Demonstrate how to hold the object about 2 inches from the nose and gently wave the palm over it to fan the odor toward your nose. Emphasize the danger of inhaling any unknown substance]
- Is the odor strong or weak?
- Is the odor sweet or bitter or sour or acid?
- Does the odor remind you of something else you have smelled?
HEARING Listen to the object
- Does it make a noise on its own?
- Does it make a noise when you touch it or rub it?
- Does it make a noise when you shake it or turn it?
TASTE Put object down. Do not taste or put near mouth
[Safety note: Warn children against putting anything in the mouth during a science lab unless they are working with an identified food item that has not been handled by others]
- Why do you think you should not taste this object?
- How do you imagine it might taste?
Coming to a Conclusion
Summarize the observations using the recorded observations. Ask one or more of the following questions.
- What do you think it is?
- What other things can you name that are like it?
- Do you know this object so well that if it were mixed up with the others you could find it again?
Mix the objects together with other similar ones and see if the children can find the one they observed.