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Smelling Bottle Activities for Kids


Smelling jars can be a wonderful learning experience for kids. It helps develop their senses and learn to use more than just their eyes when solving problems. These activities challenge children to identify smells, sort scents, and match what they smell.

Follow your nose and sniff your way to a fun day of learning with your sense of smell.

Identical Bottles

Kids will not base their choice on the way the bottle looks if they all are identical.

Kids will not base their choice on the way the bottle looks if they all are identical.

Setting up the Activity

First, you’ll need to find bottles or jars. If the activity is for younger children, you should use plastic bottles rather than glass.

For many of the activities, you will want the bottles to look the same on the outside. That way the kids are using their sense of smell to identify the bottle and not their sense of sight.

Try to find bottles that have pop open lids so that the kids don’t have to unscrew the lid. This also keeps the children from being able to see inside the bottles. Spice bottles or parmesan cheese bottles work well. Film canisters with holes poked into the top are another good option.

When you have several identical bottles, you’ll need to clean them out so they don’t retain the original smell. If the bottles are see-through, you may need to either paint them with a dark color or tape a piece of dark paper around them. You could put colored tape around the bottles as well.


Adding the Scents

When the bottles are ready, you will need to put substances in the bottles that have a strong odor. If the activity will be used for multiple days, it is best not to use something that needs to be refrigerated.

Don’t use any toxic chemicals or chemicals that have toxic fumes that could cause damage when sniffed.

These things work well in sniff bottles:

  • Garlic
  • Most spices
  • Scented oils
  • Perfumes
  • Vinegar
  • Lemon juice
  • Scented lotions
  • Fruit extracts
  • Coffee beans or grounds
  • Fresh grass clippings
  • Strongly scented flowers
  • Potpourri
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You can put the substance straight into the smelling bottle or you can pour it onto a cotton ball and then place the cotton ball into the bottle. For liquid substances, it is best to use a cotton ball. That way the liquid won’t accidentally run out of the bottle if the kids turn it the wrong way.

Only a small amount of the substance is needed in the bottle. A ¼ to a ½ an inch of powdered substances and a couple of cotton balls of liquid stuff.

Make sure the lids are screwed on tight before the kids receive them.

If the bottles will be used for several days, you may need to add a bit more of the substance to the bottles to freshen it after a couple of days.

Nose Poll

Smelling Jar Activities

Scent Match Activity

For this activity, you will need two bottles filled with each scent. Use a pair of substances for each year of age for the kids in the group. For example, if the kids are four, use four pairs of matching smells.

Take the bottles and mix them up. Sit them on a table or a tray and have the kids match the smells.  It is like a game of memory only using your nose instead of your eyes to find matching pairs.  

Name That Scent

For this activity you will need several bottles of different scents. Have the kids try to identify what they smell. Ask them what they think the stuff is used for (cooking, bathing, etc.). What part of the house it is used in (kitchen, bathroom, etc.). See who gets the most right.

This game can be fun for kids of all ages and even adults. Without visual clues, it is difficult to determine what some scents are. For older kids, write down the responses and compare and contrast the answers. With perfumes and oils, different people sense certain ingredients more than others. People will often give very different responses for the same substance.


This is especially good for younger children who may not have the knowledge to identify the scents. Begin with several sniff bottles. Have the kids group the bottles. You can have them sort them by good smells and bad smells (not everyone will come up with the same results for this). They can sort them by kitchen smells, bathroom smells, outdoor smells, etc.

Talk about how they came up with their sorting.  Older children can make a chart or graph of the class results.  You can see which smell was voted the worst and which one the best.      

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