Monday, October 26, 2015

The Undervalued Sense

I love to talk about and think about my students and the weird, wacky, and wonderful things that happen on a "typical" day at school. Spending time with the kindergarten classes often generates the most entertaining stories. For instance, there's one sweet little boy in junior kindergarten that has a habit of getting very close to my face, arms, and legs, and smelling me. As he sniffs around me, he announces, "I smell you. I smell you Ms. Molly." I'm pretty used to my personal space being invaded by little people, who touch, grab, and hug me constantly, but this scent examination unnerved me at first. Did I stink? Was I too sweaty? After this happened several times, even after I had made a special effort with my bathing that morning and a liberal application of perfume, I realized that this was just how this particular student interacts with me.

Smell. We spend a lot of time on sight and sound in school, but less on feel and definitely less on smell and taste. Why? The other senses tend to lend themselves to learning in a much more direct manner - such as looking at the words on a page and listening to someone read aloud to comprehend a written text. People also react strongly to smells - an American mother was banned from her child's elementary school due to her smell and workplaces have arranged scent-free policies to be sensitive to employees and visitors with issues, like a school in Barrie, or in Coquitlam. Some individuals, like the ones cited in this article, take matters into their own hands when odors become too much. Is it possible to completely block scents? This article I found from the Canadian Medical Association Journal states that the scientific evidence behind these scent-free policies are complex and blanket restrictions are not always helpful. Then there's the work currently being investigated by a friend of mine, Melanie McBride, who is an inter-sensory researcher at Ryerson University. A lot of Melanie's work is at a level beyond my comprehension, but she is passionate about scents, the cultural associations with some, and natural vs artificial ones. (Forgive me Melanie if I'm oversimplifying some of the aspects of your studies.) Using smell is part of the human experience. What are we missing when we try to delete the sense of smell from school and learning? Smell and memory are closely linked - what if we could help our students remember content more thoroughly through smell? This website claims that certain scents improve retention and this super-brief article mentions the attempt to link subjects to certain smells. Smelling things are one way we try to make sense of our world - students smell the liquid in my mug to see if I'm drinking tea or hot chocolate or hot water with lemon. Smelling is a natural sort of inquiry. One of the kindergarten teachers in my school has cups with holes in them for his students to explore certain scents at their own pace - coffee and chocolate were two examples he used. As long as we are careful with it and culturally respectful about it (e.g. curry may reek to some unexperienced noses but it is not a "foul stench"), we should consider scent - in our poetry, in our science and health units (e.g. natural gas alerts) and elsewhere. Smell should not be a bad word.

P.S. This photo was taken while my dear friend Denise Colby and I were in Newfoundland. While we toured the Newman Wine Vaults in St. John's, we took a sommelier scent test to see if we could categorize the bottled fragrances. Both of us fared quite poorly but the volunteers said that out of the ten bottles, most people can only identify two or three. Denise, do you recall our scores?

No comments:

Post a Comment