With only around a hundred receptors, the olfactory system can detect millions of scent-packed molecules on a daily basis. Kids have greater sensitivity to smells than adults, but everyone is affected by the powerful connection that smell and memory have evolved to share. Now, neurologists are uncovering more about how the olfactory system can be used as a tool for learning in young children.
Smell And Memory Are Neurologically Linked
A recent study looked at the powerful link between odours and memories in both children and adults. They found that certain types of neurons hidden inside the memory centre of the brain can be triggered into action via the presence of an associative odour.
Throughout the existence of humankind, people have marvelled at the visceral emotional reaction that can occur when inhaling a specific scent – be it the lavender bush that reminds you of your childhood home, or the mingled scent of salt and smoke that brings back memories of a barbecue on the beach.
One of the reasons why newborns can form emotional attachments to their parents so quickly is because of the olfactory system. In the womb, it is already active, familiarising them with the scent of their mother, which aids connection once they are born. It is this amazing system that is responsible for many of the emotional and psychological associations you make throughout the course of your life.
Using Smell As A Tool For Learning And Building Memories
The olfactory system is too powerful to ignore when it comes to constructive child development and education. By harnessing its ability to trigger memories (compounded by the enhanced sensitivity of youth), the olfactory system can be used as a tool for improving memory and retaining new information.
There is a tactic used by older students to help them recall relevant information while taking an exam. By chewing on a strong peppermint during study hours and then chewing the same peppermint while taking the corresponding exam, they support the brain in recalling information-based memories.
A similar approach can be taken with young kids. While playing games that aim to develop memory and information retention, introduce a certain smell. Non-toxic essential oils are a great option and can even be diffused into the air for natural-feeling dispersal.
Expose The Nose Through Constructive, Creative Play
Other more playful exercises can also be used for heightened neurological awareness and improved learning abilities. For example, a game of scent comparisons is a very engaging and tangible way for kids to flex their olfactory senses. Studies show that exposing kids to a wide variety of smells helps to develop the olfactory system and lay down a better foundation for memory retention and information absorption. By stimulating the olfactory system children start to recognise connection between scents and information, and this moves from being a subconscious action to being a learned skill.
Lemon peel, rosemary, sunscreen, spearmint – exposing young children to these unique smells can not only help them cultivate a stronger olfactory system but will add an extra factor of memorability to their learning experience too.