Common Sense?

Most of us are familiar with our basic 5 Senses – vision, smell, touch, taste, and hearing. All of our senses give us information about the world around us. The other 3 senses do that, too. Proprioception allows us to sense where our body is in space and helps us with lifting, pushing, and pulling. Vestibular Processing helps us balance. Interoception gives us information about what’s going on inside our bodies, like thirst or hunger. The following experiments and demonstrations use our senses.

Note: Not all science activities are suitable for all learners. Use your best judgement when participating in any STEAM activity. Get a grown up’s permission and help before beginning any activity.

Vision: Can you see through your hand?

You will need:

  • a sheet of paper. I tested this with a sheet of notebook paper, printer paper, and construction paper. They all worked fine, but the paper should be at least 11 inches long for the best outcome.
  • tape

Hold your hand in front of your face. Can you see through it? No, you can’t, unless you have super powers!

Roll the sheet of paper and secure it with tape. The roll of paper should be 11 inches long and about the size of a quarter, or approximately an inch to an inch and a half in diameter. Hold the tube of paper in your right hand. Your right hand should be very close to your face. Look through the tube. Now raise your left hand up in front of your face, fingers point up, palm facing you. Place it against the tube, about halfway up. Keep both eyes open. What do you see? Move your left hand along the tube closer to your face and further away. What do you observe? Does it work the same way if you switch hands?

Wondering how this works? Click here for the spoiler.

Smell: Scratch and Sniff Art

You will need:

  • any flavor gelatin powder, such Jell-o®
  • white school glue, such as Elmer’s®
  • water
  • NOTE: Even though most white school glue is non-toxic, this is a not a tasting activity. If you want to make edible scratch and sniff art, please do not use white school glue. Here are 5 homemade glue recipes you can use instead. Results may vary from the original recipe.

Mix equal parts water and glue. How much you mix depends on the amount of paint you want to make. Mix in the gelatin powder one spoonful at a time until your desired color is reached. Now you can paint with brushes or you can fingerpaint.

Alternate Method: If you want to practice your letters or shapes you can use the glue to write or draw. Then sprinkle the gelatin powder over it like sprinkling glitter onto glue. ***If you do this method, you don’t mix the glue with water. Just squeeze the glue out as you would use it when gluing normally.

When the “paint” dries, rub it or gently scratch it to smell the scent. Try this with drink mixes or instant coffee or cocoa for different colors and scents.

Touch: Smooth, Rough, and Scratchy, too!

Our sense of touch tells us a lot about our environment. We use our whole body to touch. Our feet feel when sand on the beach is hot, our tongue tells us that ice cream is cold and soup is hot, our elbows bump into things, and our knees get scraped, causing us to feel pain. Our arms can feel a hug and our cheeks can feel a kiss, causing us to feel love.

Our fingers are one of the primary tools we use to touch the world around us. When a person has vision loss, they can use their fingers to read and to give them even more information about their environment. If you want to try out one way that people with vision loss have fun, check out a book called Touch and Feel Mazes by Junko Murayama. The ten tactile mazes inside these puzzling pages challenge your sense of touch. Trace your fingertip along the raised dots that make up each maze instead of using a pencil.

Our Special Needs collection has Braille Books you can explore. Braille is a system of reading and writing for the blind that uses our sense of touch. You can check out a favorite like, Froggy Gets Dressed by Jonathan London and compare what the book is like in Braille and in typical text.

Or you can check out a DVD or biography about Louis Braille, the man who invented the Braille alphabet that is still used today. Six Dots: A Story of a Young Louis Braille is available both on DVD and in print form. The library also has Who Was Louis Braille?, which is part of the wildly popular Who Was series of juvenile biographies. Click here for the list of Louis Braille juvenile biographies.

Taste: Eat With Your Eyes?!

A famous foodie said “We eat first with our eyes,” over 2000 years ago! What does that mean? It means that while our tongues indeed have taste buds that allow us to understand food’s flavors like salty or sweet, we also use the information from our eyes to predict what a flavor will be before we eat it. For example, if I gave you a bowl of brown ice cream and didn’t tell you the flavor, would you guess it was chocolate or strawberry?

You will need:

  • a large bottle of apple juice or club soda (unflavored pop)
  • blue, green, orange, and red food coloring
  • plain water

Pour some apple juice or club soda into 4 cups. Add food color to each cup to change the color of the juice or soda so it looks like a new drink. Get some people to volunteer to try some new drinks. Don’t let them know ahead of time that they’re all the same drink! Let the volunteers have some plain water in between to cleanse their palate (a fance way to say, rinse their mouth. Ask the volunteers to try to guess what flavor the drinks are and to say which is their favorite. After they’ve tried them all, let them in on the fact that all the drinks were the same, onlythe color changed. Note: Do not consume anything without a grown up’s permission, especially if you have food allergies. Click here for more information.

STEAM Exploration: Why does orange juice taste so different after you brush your teeth? What do you think? Do other foods or drinks taste different after you brush your teeth? Click here for the reason.

Hearing: Pump Up the Volume!

You will need:

  • cell phone or tablet
  • various household objects

Can you find a way amplify the sound on your phone or device with household objects? If you play music on a phone or device in a room the sound can get “lost.” Is there a way to amplify it using things you’d find around the house? Test several devices and record your observations. Note: Use devices with a grown up’s permission. Only use objects that will not damage a device or change it permanently.

Click here for spoilers.

Test Your Proprioception

Test One:

Close your eyes. Keep them closed for this entire activity. Raise both hands above your head. Keep the fingers of your left hand very still. Touch your right hand index finger to your nose, then quickly touch the tip of your thumb of your left hand with the tip of your right index finger. Quickly repeat the entire process while attempting to touch each fingertip (always return to your nose in between fingertip attempts).

Switch hands and try again. How successfully did you locate each fingertip? Did you improve over time? Was there a difference when you used your right versus your left hand?

Test Two:

On lined paper write a word, such as your name. Close your eyes and write the same word. Open your eyes. Do the words look alike? Did you stay on the line?

Wondering how this works? Click here for spoilers and another test.

Vestibular: Turn, Turn, Turn

  1. Spin around 5-10 times rapidly to the right and stop. When you stop, you will feel slightly dizzy as described above.
  2. When you have recovered, repeat step 1, but when you stop this time, immediately spin the same number of times to the left and stop. You should now find that when you stop, you do not feel as dizzy.

Wondering how this works? Click here for spoilers and another test.

Interoception: Fool Your Sense of Temperature!

One thing that interoception does is help you feel what is happening inside your body. For example, how fast your heart beats, or what your temperature is. You can do this simple science activity and fool your senses.

Natalie Bota

Miss Natalie is the Disability Resources Librarian at Westlake Porter Public Library. She enjoys working with patrons of all ages and can usually be found in the Youth Services Department or the Reading Garden. She enjoys reading picture books and poetry, baseball, writing, cooking, and travel. She loves spending time with her pets, family, and friends.