Smelly Stuff!

Preparation time
: Smelly Stuff can take a little work to prepare properly, but the fun your toddler will have with this activity will be worth it! See the 'What you will need' section below for details.

Clean-up time: Minimal.

Game Duration: As long as you want, but generally between 5 and 15 minutes.

What you will need:

  • Several small containers with tight fitting lids
  • Cotton balls or pads

A variety of strong smelling things such as:

  • lemon or orange peel
  • cinnamon stick
  • apple peel
  • banana
  • vanilla extract

And some more unfamiliar smells such as:

  • vinegar
  • soap
  • molasses

Prepare your containers by placing the smelly thing in with the cotton pad/ball. It should sit awhile, so the odor penetrates the cotton, often overnight is long enough.

Remove the smelly thing so the presence of it doesn't give away what it is, leaving the cotton pad in the container. The tight fitting lid will help keep the smell inside, but for how long depends on the odor.

Liquid things will absorb in the cotton pad better than solids, but some things you want to smell don't come in liquid form! Essential oils are often much too strong and are not recommended for very young children.

How to Play:

Show your toddler a container and ask her to guess what is inside. Make a few guesses with her and then offer to find out by smelling it. Make an exaggerated sniff and let her have a turn. Then take turns smelling the contents with the container open just a bit. Talk about what you are smelling, for example: "Oh that smells sweet and spicy!". In this way your child will develop vocabulary to talk about her olfactory experiences!

Once your wee one smells what is inside, she may correctly guess what it is immediately. If she does, congratulate her and move to the next container. If she does not, you can either tell her what it is (especially if she is unfamiliar with the scent, such as vinegar, for example) or guide her by relating it to a familiar experience, such as: 'This smells a little like one of grandma's favorite desserts!', or 'This smells like something you can find in our kitchen fruit bowl!'.


  • Try Smelly Stuff as a segway to food preparation. If your child really enjoyed the smell of cinnamon, for example, prepare a delicious apple cinnamon snack!
  • Be careful, young toddlers may attempt to eat your scented cotton balls! Emphasize the smelling part of the game and keep an eye on those containers.

Variation for Older Toddlers: Try playing a guessing game with two or three smelly stuff containers. Ask your toddler to open them and find the one that smells like lemon!

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