If you baked cookies this past holiday season, chances are you have some leftover spices - some you may not pull out until next year (allspice anyone?). One of our favorite activities in the kitchen is spice exploration, and what a great way to put those leftovers to good use. This is the perfect time to do a little sensory play in the kitchen.
Some of the winter favorites, especially if you made gingerbread, are cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, and obviously ginger. Each has such a distinct aroma and flavor – even if they look quite similar in the ground form.
We love reminding kids that spices are made from plants – and all from different plant parts. This activity also gets the senses engaged, a critical tool for raising kids who cook!
What you will need:
4 index cards
5 bowls with one ground spice in each (suggestions: cinnamon, allspice, ginger, cloves, nutmeg)
Optional: Cinnamon sticks, whole nutmeg, whole allspice, whole cloves, ginger root
Optional: Mortar and pestle
On each index card, write the name of one of the spices and draw a big circle. Punch a hole in the upper left corner. (Older children can do this step.)
Introduce the spices. Have your children them smell the spice first without revealing the name. Ask them if they recognize it, and if it reminds them of any food they ever ate. Then tell them the name of the spice. Repeat with each one of the four spices.
Show the children the index cards, and tell them it will be their Sensory Spice Book. Then, help them put some glue on each one of the circles and sprinkle the correct spice on each page.
Tie the cards together with a ribbon.
Have the kids smell each page and see if they remember the name of the spice, and perhaps when they ate it or used it last.
Keep the book and keep playing the game. Have them ask other adults to play and see if the grown ups can recognize the spices.
If you have the whole version of each spice, have your child use the mortar and pestle to grind each just enough to make some powder. Have your child swipe their finger through the mortar to see the ground version and to smell freshly ground spices. Compare the scent to the previously ground spice and notice if there is a different in the potency.
Background Information and Talking Points:
To start exploring, go over the parts of a plant – roots, stems, leaves, flowers, fruits and seeds. Take a walk outside to see if you can find a plant that has all of the plant parts (or maybe that did before their leaves fell).
With very young children you can even do the “Plant Part Dance.” Have your child crouch down like a seed in the soil. Pretend to sprinkle them with water and food from the soil. Have them plant their feet like roots and stay crouched. Give the roots more water and food and ask them to make a sucking sound as they suck the water out of the soil. At this point, kids can begin to stand up and grow their stems. Have them pop out their arms for leaves and pop their head back for a flower. Have them close their eyes and enjoy the “sun” that you "sprinkle" on them. Then, pat them on their head to mimic a pollinator visiting. Explain that pollinators help turn a flower into a fruit. Have them take their arms and put them over their head like a ballerina. This is the fruit. The fruit has seeds inside and eventually drop back into the ground. Have your kid crouch on the floor to start again.
Cinnamon (Cinnamomum cassia): Cinnamon sticks are the dried bark of a cinnamon tree; it is ground to make the powdered version.
Ginger (Zingebar officinale): Ginger root is technically a rhizome (underground stem) and not a root.To avoid confusion, I often say that the ginger we eat is from a part that grows underground.
Nutmeg (Myristica fragrans): Whole nutmeg is the seed of the nutmeg tree which is an evergreen.
Cloves (Syzygium aromatic): Cloves are the flower buds of the clove tree.
Allspice (Pimenta dioica): Allspice is the dried, unripe berry of the Pimenta tree. It looks like a peppercorn - if you have a whole peppercorn you could compare the two.
If you have a laptop or phone, google the scientific names of each so that you can look at images of the whole plant, or the parts.
The Gingerbread Man or The Gingerbread Baby, by Jan Brett