Mystery Smell Contest

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Kids love experimenting with their senses, and grown-ups love being asked to: I bet your family will enjoy this Mystery Smell Contest on a late summer afternoon just before dinner, or on a rainy Sunday morning. I found that this contest works with all ages, and kids will surprise you with their answers!

Prep time: 2h ¦ Activity time: 30 mins ¦ Age: 3 + ¦ Easy

What you’ll need:
-5 to 10 identical small plastic containers on which you can easily add a lid, such as empty yogurt pots
-Colored paper or paint to cover the containers if they are transparent, so that you can’t see through
-5 to 10 fragrant items (when possible, use them in powder form, as it’s easier to manage than fluids which at some point will land on your carpet)
-Gauze (or other thin material) to cover the containers while letting the smell through, and elastic or scotch tape to attach it. Alternatively you can use a blindfold for participants; in this case, just place a normal lid on each container to hide its content before the game starts.
-Photos illustrating each smell for younger kids.

What to do
Depending on participants’ age, choose the number (between 5 and 10) and type of flavours you will use: easy smells for younger kids and tricky ones for older ones. Remember to always keep some easy ones so that everyone has the pleasure of guessing correctly at least once.

Easy-to-guess smells are: chocolate (despite what I said above about powder being ideal, I find that nothing smells more chocolaty than chocolate sauce), banana (you can use some banana slices or even bits of banana skin), strawberry (strawberry jam works fine, but squashed fresh strawberries are better), vanilla.
More difficult ones are: coconut (powder), coffee (powder), cinnamon (powder or bark), lavender (dry flowers, or essential oil on a cotton ball), mint (squashed fresh leaves, or sirup), thyme… As a general rule, flowers and plants are much more difficult to guess than food, so better to leave them for adults.

Cover each container with colored paper so that you can’t see through (kids love to cheat), add a label with a number on each container.

Place the gauze to make a lid if you would like participants to be able to smell containers by themselves (easier solution if you have a lot of participants), or just use a blindfold if you prefer to individually present each kid with a pot to smell.

For younger kids, create a poster with photos illustrating each smell and place it in front of the containers. It is much easier to guess when you just have to choose from several smells, than when you have no clue at all, so for adults, you can hide the poster. Create a card with 2 columns:  one with the flavour picture, one to write down the container number they believe this smell is in.

For adults, create a card with 2 columns: one with the containers number, one to fill in with the flavour they have guessed.

Play: in turn, participants come, smell the container, and say their guess. Write down their name and answers on a card.  Prompt younger ones by showing them the photos and asking: did you smell chocolate? or did you smell vanilla? was this like Daddy’s coffee, or Mummy’s cakes?

Reward: Check cards for correct answers and award winners. The Grand Winner is the one with the maximum number of correct answers. All participants should win treats for each correct answer, ideally flavoured with the same smell they correctly guessed !


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