Library of Interesting Scents? Looking for gift for my 3 year old.
November 30, 2015 4:18 AM   Subscribe

Help me find (or make) the perfect Christmas gift for my 3-year-old daughter: a collection of interesting scents.

June LOVES smelling new smells. She loves burying her head in a jar of spices, sniffing every candle on the shelf, and testing out flowers at the plant store. I have in mind a gift idea that I think would be perfect for her, but I'm having trouble figuring out if such a thing even exists.

Basically, what I'd love to get for her is a set of little metal canisters (or something else easy to open) that each contain a different wonderful (or at least interesting) scent. She could open and close them at her leisure, comparing and contrasting, and ideally this is an activity that wouldn't require constant close monitoring. I've seen the "scent library" sampler packs sold by Demeter and other perfume companies, but for obvious reasons I'm not really interested in giving her glass vials of flammable poison.

Does this thing even exist? And if not, how the hell would I even begin making one? What should my materials be, and what scents should it contain?
posted by saladin to Shopping (22 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
If you make it yourself, I'd use a magnetic spice rack that you can find in many places (I linked to BB&B, but they're everywhere) with labels (or not) from a labelmaker.
posted by xingcat at 4:28 AM on November 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Following up on xingcat's DIY approach, I think the inexpensive Watchmaker's Cases sold by Lee Valley would be the cat's pajamas for this type of project.
posted by fairmettle at 4:37 AM on November 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

You can put a little bit of perfume or essential oil on a cotton ball, if you want the variety of smells without the glass jars.
posted by yarntheory at 4:46 AM on November 30, 2015 [3 favorites]

Try looking up science experiments and science projects that deal with the sense of smell. Here's one as an example.
posted by divabat at 4:53 AM on November 30, 2015

Kids sensory play boxes are often scented by soaking raw rice in essential oils or other things. I'd do that and put it in containers with holes smaller than the rice and/or sew little rice bags for it. Just google scented play rice or scented sensory rice. (Difficult to link on mobile.) One person used koolaid to scent it.
posted by Crystalinne at 5:11 AM on November 30, 2015 [4 favorites]

Materials: screw-top plastic jars (possibly with sifters), or glass-topped aluminum jars like fairmettle linked to. For scented oils, you can dab them on cotton balls, or on cut pieces of colorful fabric (small lengths of ribbon, even).

Scents: Indie perfumeries are a great resource for things like this, even if you don't plan on using their packaging, which is often fiddly little glass vials, especially if you're buying samples. 1ml or 2.5ml samples will get you PLENTY of perfume for this type of project, and will be able to refresh the scented material many times. They're also wallet-friendly, usually $10-15 for a bunch of samples. For straight up individual notes, I recommend Alchimia Apothecary (their site is undergoing maintenance today), and others like Haus of Gloi and Sixteen92 are great. Since perfumeries can skew more complicated or adult, smell-wise, you're welcome to contact me for recommendations on more kid-friendly scents! There are lots of indie gourmand scents out there, like cakes and cookies and hot chocolates.

You could also use essential oils straight from any craft store or online shop, which would get you nice single notes like certain florals, citruses, etc. Pure scents of any kind, and oils, can be irritating to skin, so I would definitely do a jarred method that won't be in danger of contacting skin.

If you want to use actual smelly objects like spices, etc., I would recommend only using jars that have sifters in the lid, and only use items that can't fit through the sifter holes, like pieces of cinnamon stick, dried rosemary, vanilla bean, etc. Putting actual ground spices in could be a mess unless you have a very careful kid.

This is a really awesome project. I feel like I want to do something like this now, just for myself.
posted by rachaelfaith at 5:29 AM on November 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'd get these. They are plastic and she can open them to reveal the sifter cap. Good fine motor practice for opening the covers and the sifter cap keeps anything from spilling.
They are just big enough to tape a little picture on top (orange if it's orange oil), etc.
I would do yarn theory's idea of oil on a cotton ball. It's exactly what I do for travel makeup remover with baby oil.
posted by ReluctantViking at 5:31 AM on November 30, 2015

You didn't mention a price range but I guess $400 for Le Nez Du Vin is too dear? Still, the aroma list might have some ideas.
posted by nicwolff at 5:37 AM on November 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

Look up Demeter Fragrance Library. They have scores of unusual scents, many of them child-appropriate, such as Play-doh and Crayola. My personal favorites: Dirt, Tomato Stem, and Grass. I love the idea of scenting neutral materials in little tins!
posted by Otter_Handler at 5:50 AM on November 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Speaking as a former K teacher, if your daughter's going to play with this by herself, she's likely going to try to get the container apart (like, peeling up the plastic sifter top to see what's underneath) and may try to taste/eat the contents, especially if they smell foodlike. So I would recommend thinking about those design factors as you choose a container, scents, and a medium to carry the scent.
posted by Miko at 5:57 AM on November 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

Our local science museum adds scent to cotton balls, and puts them in squeeze bottles like this. The kids can squish the bottles to get a puff of scent. Not as cool looking as tins, but obviously kid-proof and safe enough for the museum to leave out unattended. (And few kids enjoy licking cotton balls)
posted by synapse at 6:16 AM on November 30, 2015 [5 favorites]

Just came in to say what synapse said - the last science museum that we went to had a display of basically ketchup squeeze bottles, with scents inside that kids could squeeze to smell.
posted by Mchelly at 6:44 AM on November 30, 2015

The game Follow Your Nose is exactly what you're looking for. It's 4+ but I think a three year old could open and close the lids and use it for scent without playing the bingo aspect till she's older. I have this game, so feel free to me-mail me with specific questions.
posted by xo at 7:49 AM on November 30, 2015

This is a standard Montessori lesson called Smelling Bottles or Olfactory Bottles. There are tons of guides for making your own Smelling Bottles, just search for "Montessori smelling bottles". I couldn't find one that was hands down better than the rest, but mostly the guides suggest soaking a cottonball with an essential oil to make each smell bottle. At a natural foods store (or Whole Foods) there are tons and tons of different kinds of essential oils and mixtures, or you could use perfumes too. CB I Hate Perfume has some really evocative and unusual scents like "dirt", "old books", "leather", etc. Generally speaking, I doubt any of them are going to last forever, since smells are the result of volatile chemicals and they do lessen a lot with time. So I would suggest making your own.

What a great idea :)
posted by Cygnet at 7:56 AM on November 30, 2015

Ideas for scents to use:

Vanilla, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cardamom, Cayenne pepper, black pepper, lemon oil, peppermint oil, baby shampoo, Ivory soap, lavender, dirt, pine oil, oregano, cedar oil, juniper oil, anise, tea tree oil, tarragon, basil, thyme oil, wintergreen, a few classic perfumes (I know nothing about them, sorry) and some of the unusual ones like "snow on wet mittens" (or similar, I forget the exact name), "dirt", etc.

If you want unpleasant scents too, you could expand widely...
posted by Cygnet at 8:00 AM on November 30, 2015

Here are some good scents that are easy to find, mostly non-toxic, and shelf-stable:

Liquids to dab on cotton or paper (maybe try using coffee filters, as they are very absorbent):
-Liquid smoke
-Baking extracts like Vanilla, Peppermint, Spearmint, Almond, Lemon, Orange
-Essential oils (wouldn't want to eat these but they're ok to handle in small quantities): geranium, citronella, tea tree, lavender, rose, etc)
-The most familiar aftershave, cologne, or perfume worn by parents or relatives
-Clinique brand "Happy" perfume will probably delight a little girl (it smells like mangoes!) so maybe a few department store paper testers, well saturated with various scents

Solids with strong, long-lasting smells that won't be too messy if she spills them (so perhaps avoid powders!)
-Pieces of citrus rind
-Small evergreen twigs
-Coffee beans
-Flavored coffee beans
-Cinnamon sticks
-Whole nutmeg (these are grape-sized and could be a choking hazard, so consider halving them by sanding them on a sharp grater or rasp- they are easy to grate and look neat inside anyway)
-Whole vanilla beans
-Star Anise
-Cardamom pods
-Bay leaves
-Rose petals
-Pot pourri
-Dried garlic or onion flakes (spice section)
-Scented soaps (mini ones might fit into the bottles, or cut larger bars into chunks)
-Small nontoxic scented candles (dig out a chunk of the wax if the candle is too large)
-Dryer sheet (fabric softener thingies)

This is such a cute, unique gift idea- have fun making it- I'm sure she'll love it!
posted by pseudostrabismus at 8:10 AM on November 30, 2015

Hah, we have an old version of Follow Your Nose from 1991. Some of the scents are still present, though most are pretty artificial smelling now. Still, it's fun to play the guessing game portion of the game with our 4 year old boy.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:38 AM on November 30, 2015

I had one of these as a child and loved it! Played with my sister over and over and over again :)
posted by Fallbala at 9:05 AM on November 30, 2015

Maybe a trip to Kalustyan's and let her pick out her favorite spices, write them down and then add to a spice rack.
posted by sciencegeek at 9:35 AM on November 30, 2015

Cool gift! You can buy sets of the empty bottles used in Montessori lessons.
posted by rebeccabeagle at 10:11 AM on November 30, 2015

Fantastic answers one and all, and I've marked as best those which I'll be directly relying on to build this set for kiddo. Thanks so much for your help, folks.
posted by saladin at 12:13 PM on December 2, 2015

Another cheap (possibly free) way of storing the scents is old film canisters with pinholes in the lid or base.
posted by cholly at 3:43 AM on December 5, 2015

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