5-minute Home Lab: Exploring the Senses

Spark your child’s interest in learning about the human body with these speedy ‘sense’ experiments to try at home.

SIGHT

The activity:

Hold one finger in front of your nose and focus on an object in the distance. Close one eye at a time and notice how your finger jumps from side to side.

The explanation:

Each of your eyes sees objects from a slightly different angle. When both eyes are open, your brain combines the information collected by each eye to create a single 3D image.

The activity:

Stare closely at a picture for 30 seconds. Then, immediately stare at a white wall (or white sheet of paper) and watch as some of the image appears out of nowhere.

The explanation:

When you look at something for a long time, the cells in your retina get tired. When you look away, the cells that aren’t tired react more strongly than the other cells and make what is called an ‘afterimage’.

HEARING

The activity:

Spin around 5 times (really) fast, stop and you will feel dizzy.

The explanation:

After you have stopped, the fluid in your ears will keep spinning for a while. This tells your brain that you are moving but your eyes are telling your brain that you are standing still. This confuses your brain and is what makes you feel dizzy.

The activity:

Place a mobile phone inside an empty jar and seal the jar with cling film or a balloon. Place some sprinkles on top of the cling film (or balloon) and call the phone. The sprinkles should dance.

The explanation:

All noise that we hear starts in the same way – with vibrations. In this experiment, the vibrations from the phone pass through the air and the cling film (or balloon), causing the sprinkles to dance…and you to see sound waves! Our ears catch sound waves and send them to our eardrums, which makes them vibrate. From there, the vibrations travel to our inner ear to be translated into nerve messages and sent to your brain.

SMELL

The activity:

Take a bite of food and think about how it tastes. Now, hold your nose and take another bite. Did you notice how it didn’t taste as much?

The explanation:

Our sense of smell affects our taste. That’s why when we have a cold our food doesn’t taste as good.

The activity:

Gather a selection of items such as spices (cinnamon, cloves), fruits (lemon, orange), and herbs (rosemary, mint). Blindfold your little one and let them smell each item, one at a time. Ask them to sort the items into categories, based on how they smell (e.g. sweet, spicy, citrusy). This is a great activity to do with two or more children.

The explanation:

The scent molecules will head through your nostrils and reach something called the olfactory bulb. From here, smell information is sent to your brain for processing. When you smell something, your brain reminds you about the people, places and things related to that smell. We learn how to categorise smells based on our experiences.

TASTE

The activity:

Put a sweet or salty food on your tongue and think about how it tastes. Now, use a paper towel to dry your tongue and place the same food on your tongue again. You will struggle to taste anything.

The explanation:

For your tongue to taste something, your saliva must first dissolve it. Saliva plays a key role in dissolving food molecules, allowing them to reach taste receptors on the tongue.

The activity:

Cut a selection of food into similar sized cubes and place a lolly stick into each one. Blindfold your child and offer them cubes to ‘lick-taste’, one at a time.

The explanation:

Taste isn’t just what is on the tongue. To taste we also use our sense of touch, sight, and smell.

TOUCH

The activity:

Place a few small objects into bag or box (make sure they have distinct textures e.g. pom-pom, rubber band). Blindfold your child and let them reach inside to feel each object and guess what they are based on touch alone.

The explanation:

Touch receptors on our skin tell us whether an object is rough or smooth and how softly the object is touching you.

The activity:

Fill three glasses with water – one with room temperature water, one with ice cold water, and one with hot water (not hot enough to burn though!). Hold the hot glass of water with one hand and the cold glass of water with the other. Wait 60 seconds and place the glasses down. Now, pick up the glass filled with room-temperature water. Does the glass feel the same temperature on each hand?

The explanation:

You probably noticed that the glass feels cooler to the hand that was holding the hot glass and warmer to the hand that was holding the cold glass. This is because your skin does not sense the exact temperature of an object, instead it senses the difference in temperature between a new object and an old object.

I hope you had fun. Now check out the suggested articles below for more hands-on activities, facts and fun that will have young minds (and yours too) exploding for more. 🚀💡

(a.k.a. Hayley)

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