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October 15, 2016

Sophie Miller

Fall Learning Series Part 4: The Five Senses

Topics: Kids And Creativity, Creativity, STEM Education / Play, Learning at Home, Learning Through Play, STEM, STEAM

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Imagine that you’re baking your favorite dish.  As you’re putting the pan into the oven, you graze your arm against the edge – it’s burning hot!  Your body responds to the heat in seconds and you pull your arm away before the skin gets seriously burned.  You’re a little bummed that you hurt yourself – but it’s all worth it when your dish is done, and you smell that delicious smell coming from the oven.  Just be careful when you’re taking it out, and don’t burn your mouth!

Our fall learning series is designed to give you a chance to teach your children about something new and interesting. Each week our blog covers a new topic, and is filled with specially curated activities that let you get hands-on with each lesson. It’s a great way to spend time with family and learn all at once!

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When you graze your arm on the edge of a hot oven, or when you smell your favorite food cooked just right, your senses are at work.  You have five main senses: sound, sight, touch, taste, and smell.  Your senses are actually message delivery systems.  They receive information – that stove is too hot! or that smells like cookies! – and relay this crucial information to your brain.  Your brain then makes sense of the data that it receives and makes decisions based off of it, whether it’s to pull your arm away from the source of the heat or to take your cooking out of the oven to cool.

Fun Facts:

  • Human eyes can detect candlelight from up to 14 miles away, in perfect conditions.
  • On average, female-bodied people have a more sensitive sense of taste and of smell than male-bodied people.
  • Dogs have a sense of smell that can be up to 10,000 times more powerful than that of humans!
  • Scientists argue about whether there are more than five senses. Other contenders include balance, kinesthetics (or awareness of where your body parts are), pain detection, and temperature detection.
  • Although humans taste with their tongues, that’s not true across the animal kingdom! Butterflies have taste receptors on their feet, and catfish have taste receptors all over their bodies.

Sound:

While your ears may look like one simple body part, they contain many small parts that help you to hear and make sense of sounds.  When a sound enters your ear, the outer part of your ear funnels this sound farther inside of the ear to your eardrum.  Your eardrum vibrates in response to the sound, which causes ripples in the fluid that you have inside your ears.  The ripples in this fluid move against the tiny nerve-endings located on the very inside of your ears, and these nerves convey the message of the sound to your brain for interpretation.

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To help your kids get a visual sense of how sound vibrates, try this sound activity from Ness at Kids Activity Blog.  While it’s pretty messy, they’ll be able to watch different objects fly through the air with the force of the sounds that they’re creating.  It’s a quick make-your-own-sound-waves project!

Sight:

Did you know that you actually see the world upside down?  When images enter your eyeball, they are facing right side up.  However, as the different light particles pass through your eyeball and are received by photoreceptors in your eye, the image is flipped, and finally projected as upside down.  Don’t worry though – your brain is accustomed to flipping the image right-side up again, so that we know what the world really looks like.

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Our eyes send a lot of different messages to our brains, from how bright a light is to a specific image in front of us.  Colors in particular start a very special process – different colors cause different photoreceptors to react, which translates to our brains as the different colors that you perceive even as you read this blog!  To help your kids see the way light and color interact, try out this colored glass activity from The Artful Parent.  Make sure they pay close attention to all the colors they see – their eyes are sending messages to their brains all the time!

Touch:

From responding to extreme heat to exploring the texture of something new and unfamiliar, our sense of touch is constantly receiving information about the world around us.  Touch conveys its messages through the billions of nerves that stretch through our entire bodies.  Nerves that have to do with your sense of touch are called touch receptors or pressure receptors.  While around 5 million of your touch receptors are located in your skin, they are also located all throughout your body, so that if something is wrong inside of you, these nerves can convey that sense of pain to your brain.

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Our bodies can distinguish all sorts of different feelings or textures – why not try some out?  One of the weirdest textures out there is the slick, gooey consistency of silly putty.  This silly putty recipe allows your kids to create their own classic putty and color it exactly how they want, then put those touch receptors to work to their heart’s content!  Best of all, working with squishable objects is great for your kids’ finger strength and fine motor skills.

Taste:

Your tongue is responsible for your sense of taste – your tongue and the 10,000 little hair-like bumps on it called papillae, or taste buds.  These taste buds receive information from the different chemicals in your food and categorize the taste into one of five main categories: bitter, salty, savory, sour, or sweet.

While your taste buds do a lot of the work, however, your nose is responsible for most of your sense of taste.  According to some studies, if you lost your sense of smell, around 80% of your sense of taste would be lost as well.

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To get a range of different tastes, orchestrate this taste test in your own home.  Best for younger kids, this activity from Allison at Learn Play Imagine helps children connect the tastes they’re experiencing with words so they can begin learning to identify the five major tastes.

Smell:

We’ve learned that your sense of smell is crucial for your ability to taste, but that’s not the only thing that it does.  Smell is dictated by a tight patch of neurons no bigger than a postage stamp in the inside of your nose.  These neurons are unique in that they are exposed to the open air.  When you smell something, the odor particles move into your nose and attach to these neurons, activating them and sending the message of that particular smell to your brain.

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To experience the sense of smell vividly, try out this fun experiment from Mary Catherine at Fun-A-Day.  Help your kids make an explosive Jell-O volcano that releases a crazy strong vinegar odor!

Our Five Senses in the World:

Our five senses shape the way that we perceive the world.  Imagine your life without sight, or hearing, or taste.  Talk with your kids about what these experiences might be like, or read them accounts from people who don’t have or who have lost these senses.  Appreciation of all our senses is valuable, as our senses are very valuable to us.  Try out the fun exercises above to give your kids a better understanding of how their senses work, and check back in next week when we’ll be talking about spooky Halloween Science!

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