Scent Science and Cinnamon Rolls Activity

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Updated on Jun 27, 2013

Our sense of smell is the only one of our senses that sends information directly to the brain. Of the twelve nerve endings that enter the brain, only the olfactory (sense of smell) passes stimuli directly to the brain unfiltered. Smells possess some powerful properties! Researchers have found that certain odors increase the ability to learn, create, and think. Other aromas are thought to boost attention and learning. Peppermint, basil, lemon, cinnamon, and rosemary are linked to mental alertness. Lavender, chamomile, orange, and rose promote relaxation and calming. Who knew that odors and education would go so well together!

Aromas are amazing! Check out the chart below, which shows some common conditions and the aromas that may help improve them.


effective herb*

low energy

Basil, cinnamon, clove, garlic, geranium, hyssop, marjoram, nutmeg, pine


Basil, chamomile, eucalyptus, jasmine, marjoram,

neroli, rose, thyme, ylang-ylang


Borneo camphor, chamomile, jasmine, lavender, nutmeg, thyme, verbena


Chamomile, cypress, jasmine, lavender, marjoram, melissa, nutmeg, rose, vanilla, verbena


(general tonic)

Chamomile, cinnamon, cypress, frankincense, jasmine, lavender, marjoram, neroli, nutmeg, orange, rose, sage, sandalwood, verbena


Basil, chamomile, cinnamon, clove, cypress, frankincense, jasmine, lavender, marjoram, neroli, orange, rose, sage, savory, sandalwood, thyme, vanilla

*Check for allergies to herbs and spices.

Here are some ideas for using aromas to build brain power:

Design cooking activities to release aromas that increase alertness. For example, cinnamon rolls, peppermint candies, and lemonade have aromas that encourage mental alertness.

What You Need:

  • 2 cups (480 ml) baking mix, such as Bisquick
  • 2/3 cup (160 ml) milk
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) sugar
  • Margarine or butter
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Cookie sheet
  • 2 small bowls
  • Rolling pin
  • Measuring cups
  • Measuring spoons
  • Table knife
  • Breadboard

What You Do:

  1. Combine baking mix and milk in a small bowl and beat with a fork.
  2. Place dough on a floured surface and knead gently. Roll into an 8” x 12” (20 cm x 30 cm) rectangle and spread with margarine.
  3. Mix sugar and cinnamon in another bowl and sprinkle over dough. Roll tightly and pinch ends closed. Cut into one-inch slices and place on greased cookie sheet. Bake 15 minutes at 425°F (220°C).

Try making scented playdough! Substituting one tablespoon of massage oil for one of the two tablespoons of oil suggested in most playdough recipes makes great scented playdough (see Scented Playdough Recipe #1). Flavored powdered drink mix, such as Kool-Aid, also creates a nicely scented playdough (see Scented Playdough Recipe #2).

Scented Playdough Recipe #1:

  • 3 cups (720 ml) flour
  • 11/2 (360 ml) cups salt
  • 2 tablespoons oil (use 1 tablespoon of massage oil)
  • 2 tablespoons cream of tartar
  • 3 cups (720 ml) water
  • Measuring cups
  • Spoons
  • Saucepan
  • Mixing spoon
  • Stove
  • Hot plate

What You Do:

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan. Cook over very low heat until mixture is no longer sticky to the touch. Add a teaspoon of flavored extract to make fragrant playdough.

Scented Playdough Recipe #2

  • 1 package powdered drink mix, such as Kool-Aid
  • 1 cup (240 ml) water
  • 1 teaspoon baby oil
  • 1 cup (240 ml) flour
  • ½ cup (120 ml) salt
  • 2 teaspoons cream of tartar
  • Measuring cups
  • Spoons
  • Saucepan
  • Mixing spoon
  • Stove
  • Hot plate
  • Wax paper

What You Do:

  1. Stir drink mix and water in a saucepan over medium heat until steam rises. Add baby oil and stir.
  2. Mix together remaining dry ingredients. Gradually add to heated liquids and stir until a mashed potato consistency is achieved.
  3. Remove from stove. Place playdough on wax paper and knead until smooth. Allow to cool. Have fun!

Some other ideas:

  • Encourage your child to use scented markers for writing and drawing activities. Create your own colored markers by dipping dried-up markers in scented dyes or paints.
  • Add cooking extracts to tempera paint, then ask children to make “scent-sational” paintings. Note: these are not edible!
  • Use potpourri. Your child can make her own potpourri by placing cloves, cinnamon sticks, or scented cotton balls in a four-inch (ten-centimeter) square of netting, then tying it closed with a piece of ribbon.
  • Provide hand lotions by the sink for children to use after washing her hands.
  • Make scratch and sniff pictures. Mix gelatin using only half the amount of water called for in the recipe, then invite your child to use it as paint. After the paint dries, she can scratch and sniff.
  • Make perfume. Collect old flowers from a florist. Remove petals and place them in an empty orange juice can. Add enough water to cover petals. Put the orange juice can in a saucepan of water and warm on low heat for a couple of hours. Strain the liquid and bottle as perfume.
  • Play florist! Put out flower pots, potting soil, and, if possible, discarded flowers from a florist for a realistic and aromatic touch.
  • Grow an herb garden. Introduce children to various herbs and invite them to participate in cooking activities that will utilize the herbs.
  • Fill beanbags with herbs. And then get to playing with them!
  • Take a nature walk. Encourage children to close their eyes and try to identify the smells of nature.
  • Place calming or relaxing aromas in quiet areas and aromas that encourage alertness in more active areas.
  • Make smelling bottles by dipping cotton balls in extracts and placing them in film canisters. Poke holes in the lids. Create two of each scent and encourage children to match the scents by using their sense of smell.
  • Create scented crayons for children to use. Melt old and broken crayons in cans on a warming tray. Add extracts before the wax hardens.
  • Make homemade toothpaste. Add water to baking soda until you have a paste consistency. Add a couple of drops of peppermint extract.
  • Plant a rose garden or a flower bed and encourage children to help take care of it.

Books for children:

Smelling Things by Allen Fowler

Nose Book by Al Perkins

Sniffing and Smelling by Henry Arthur Pluckrose

Smelling by Richard L. Allington

Want to read more?

Rechelbacher, Horst. 1987. Rejuvenation: A Wellness Guide for Women and Men. Rochester, VT: Thorsons Publishers.

Howard, Pierce J. 1994. The Owner’s Manual for The Brain: Everyday Applications from Mind-Brain Research. Austin, TX: Leornian Press.

Adapted with permission from "Start Smart" by Pam Schiller. Copyright 2009. Used by Permission of Gryphon House, Inc., Maryland. All Rights Reserved.

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