Practice Mindful Smelling

Perform a smelling activity using essential oils that teaches children to be present and mindful while they are soothed by different scents.

| September 2018

  • mindful smelling practice
    Receptors in our nose allow us to smell and determine the differences between various smells. Our sense of smell is linked to our limbic system, which is a system of nerves in the brain concerned with strong emotions and memory.
    Photo by Getty/amesy
  • book cover
    “Mindfulness for Children” by Tracy L. Daniel is a guide for introducing practices of mindfulness to children so they can learn to reduce stress, regulate behavior and emotions, and develop a positive self-image.
    Cover courtesy Simon and Schuster

  • mindful smelling practice
  • book cover
Mindfulness for Children (Simon and Schuster, 2018) by Tracy L. Daniel is a guide for explaining and practicing the art of being present and the positive benefits for children learning to be mindful. Learning mindfulness enables children to deal with their emotions in a balanced healthy way. Daniel explains the science of mindfulness along with strategies and practices easy for teaching children that are simple, inexpensive, and not time-consuming.

Mindful Smelling: The Olfactory Sense

Receptors in our nose allow us to smell and determine the differences between various smells. Our sense of smell is linked to our limbic system, which is a system of nerves in the brain concerned with strong emotions and memory. What is unique about our olfactory sense is that when we smell something, it follows a direct path to the limbic system, whereas our other senses take the scenic route. This means our response to smell is immediate, and it is why smell, more than any other sense, can trigger emotional memories in children. Smells such as lavender and vanilla are calming while smells such as peppermint are energizing. However, different scents have different effects on different children, so it's always best to use caution when doing Mindful Smelling in a group.

Smell and Tell

Smell and Tell is appropriate for children ages five and up. For this game, find five small containers that are a little bigger than a cotton ball and not too deep. Put a couple of drops of essential oil on each of the cotton balls and drop them in the cups. (Each cotton ball should have a different oil.) Therapeutic-grade essential oils (e.g., lemon, lime, orange, and balsam fir) work well for this activity. If you don't have essential oils, raid the pantry and use vanilla, vinegar, pickle juice, lemon juice, or cinnamon sticks. Try to use scents that children are familiar with and stick to scents that are either calming or energizing — don't mix calming and energizing scents together. Everyone takes turns smelling the cotton ball in the container. Once everyone has had a turn smelling, the guessing begins. Ask children to write their guesses on a piece of paper and then discuss the guesses at the end of the activity.


  • Five small glass containers, like airplane-approved travel-size containers
  • Cotton balls
  • Essential oils
  • Paper and writing utensil


Smell and Tell, especially when used with essential oils, may improve memory and help children relax. Using their sense of smell makes children more aware of their environment, which enhances focus and attention. Talking about what the scents remind them of promotes communication skills. Writing or drawing their responses improves fine motor skills.

What to Say

  • Start by sitting in Easy Seated Pose. We are going to try to identify some different scents. Reach inside the glass in front of you and bring the cotton ball up to your nose and sniff. Put it back in the glass when you're done smelling.
  • Write or draw on your paper what you think the scent is. Don't say what it is yet.
  • Carefully pass the glass to the child sitting next to you.
  • OK, now that everyone is done, what do you think the scent was? What did it remind you of? How did it make you feel?
  • Repeat this process with the other scents.

Mindfulness Challenge

Take the cotton balls out of the container. Have your child smell both the container and the cotton balls and try to figure out which cotton ball goes in which container.

More from Mindfulness for Children:

Excerpted from Mindfulness for Children: 150+ Mindfulness Activities for Happier, Healthier, Stress-Free Kids by Dr. Tracy L. Daniel, Ph.D. Copyright © 2018 Adams Media, a division of Simon and Schuster. Also available at Simon and Schuster. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved. Interior illustration by Nicola Dos Santos

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