Sensory Play with Whole Spices and Beans - My Nearest And Dearest

Sensory Play with Whole Spices and Beans

SCENTsory Exploration from My Nearest and Dearest blog. Discovering the scents, textures, tastes, and appearance of whole spices.

I could spend an entire afternoon wandering the aisles of bulk food stores. I’m referring to ones like The Bulk Barn here in Canada, with bin¬†after bin of exotic rice, teas, ingredients for baking, and health food – not big box stores like Costco, although I could happily while away the hours there if I were sans child.

Recently I did get to spend a little time at The Bulk Barn. Although I wasn’t there long, my dear rambunctious little Peanut did stay seated in the shopping cart long enough for me to have a thorough look around the spice aisle. His willingness to cooperate may or may not have been due to the M&M’s I was sneaking him. ūüėČ

We came out of the store with a big bag of white navy beans and several small bags of whole spices. In my head I was dreaming up a beautiful sensory activity for the kids. I was pleased as Punch when the reality lived up to my vision.The little ones spent a lovely afternoon in the autumn sun engaged in a SCENTsory exploration of the beans and spices.

The Invitation to Play:

Spices: whole nutmeg, bay leaves, allspice, black cardamom seeds, star anise, and pink peppercorn.

Aren’t they beautiful?!

Whole spices for a SCENTsory exploration

Coriander seeds. These weigh almost nothing.Trust me when I tell you that it feels heavenly to dig your hands into a bowl of them!

Coriander seeds for sensory play

White navy beans. We’ve been playing with these for a couple of weeks. They make a great base for sensory bins and are also fun to poke into playdough. We only used a portion of our beans for this activity.

White navy beans for sensory play

Tools to explore the materials. I like to give the kids a variety of tools whenever we do sensory or discovery types of play. The objects below can be used for scooping, stirring, transferring, grinding (the rock), poking, and magnifying. These tools help inspire pretend play (such as cooking) and also allow the kids to really investigate the different materials.

Tools for use in sensory and discovery play

Peanut got first dibs on this sensory exploration as our little girl friend who comes for daycare was having a good, long nap. I set everything up outside on the deck (I put a blanket down to prevent the small seeds and beans from falling through the cracks between the deck boards). He bypassed the tools I’d set out and instead brought over a can that he painted awhile ago and a big mixing spoon. The boy loves to cook!

While sitting with him I pointed out that the coriander seeds and navy beans made a sound like rain when they fell on the wooden tray. This led to a chat about rain falling on the roof of our family cottage.

Sooping coriander seeds. Invitation to play with whole spices and beans from My Nearest and Dearest


Digging into a mix of whole spices and beans. SCENTsory exploration from My Nearest and Dearest blog.¬†While my son was more engaged with the pretend play aspects of this activity, our friend really took her time inspecting the spices and beans. She examined them closely, smelled them and then spent a lot of time just plunging her hands into the bowl, lifting them out and then watching and listening to them fall back into the bowl. I was actually quite surprised that she didn’t taste them but the strong scents, particularly of the black cardamom, may have been a turn-off.

Star Anise. SCENTsory exploration for toddlers and prescholers.

SCENTsory play with spices and beans.


My Nearest and Dearest blog. SCENTsory exploration with whole spices and beans.

The rock was perfect for cracking and grinding the spices. I gave the larger nutmeg and cardamom seeds a good whack to open them and then let the kids take it from there.

Using a rock to grind whole spices. SCENTsory play at My Nearest and Dearest blog.

Mixing spices and beans. SCENTsory exploration at My Nearest and Dearest blog.

A SCENTsory exploration by My Nearest and Dearest blog. This activity engages all the senses and also encourages pretend play and fine motor development.

This activity included lots of savory smells. If you and your child would prefer something sweeter, you may want to try our Cinnamon Maple Salt Tray or Nutmeg and Cinnamon Playdough. We also explored the smell and taste of lime a few months back with Lime Cloud Dough.


Follow Ann Harquail (My Nearest & Dearest)’s board Sensory and Small World Play on Pinterest.

Thanks for reading!


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