The fall always makes me think of tree nuts. I’m not sure if it’s the stories of squirrels storing acorns or the bags of nuts still in their shells showing up in the grocery stores, something about autumn says nuts. When I was a kid, my parents always had a bowl of nuts sitting out in the fall. And I remember being so impressed with how my dad could crack open a walnut with his bare hands (using another walnut).
I like to continue that tradition of having nuts out as a handy snack (though I’m still working on my walnut cracking skills). And I’m bringing my daughter and her cousins into the mix with fun little nut activities.
Here we explore them with all 5 senses: sight, touch, smell, taste, and sound.
This nuts and seeds sensory exploration is probably best with kids ages 3-7.
Please note: This activity should not be done with kids who have known or suspected tree nut allergies or allergies to seeds.
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Tree nuts still in their shell (I could not find them at any local stores this year – maybe I went shopping too early in the season – so I finally ordered these ones through Amazon. (Click the image to be taken to the affiliate link.)
Various seeds – I used raw pumpkin seeds and raw sunflower seeds as well as shelled roasted and salted pumpkin and sunflower seeds (for tasting). I also included dry corn kernels.
Small paper bags such as lunch bags. (The take-out bags from fast-food restaurants work well.) You need one for each nut you’ll use in the Mystery Bag Game. I used 5.
Matching containers of some sort to play the Matching Shakers game. I recommend having ten matching containers so you can have five pairs in the game. I used play-doh containers. You can get some at the dollar store, but I ordered them through Amazon for a better deal on this 10 pack. (I removed all the play doh and stored it temporarily in another container. Then I wrapped the empty play-doh containers with duct tape – optional.) You could also cut up cardboard rolls and seal with duct tape. (just leave a flap so you can open them to check that the kids found a match.) If you happen to have old film canisters around, that might work too. Whatever you can find/make that will give you 8-10 matching containers will work.
Nutcracker(s) – This is a kid-friendly one we used. (Click the image to be taken to the Amazon link.)
Nut butters (almond butter, sun butter, Nutella) for tasting
Apples (or other fruit for dipping in the nut butters)
Platter of some sort for serving fruit and spreads and the roasted seeds
Note: I deliberately left peanuts out of this activity since they aren’t technically nuts.
Mystery Bag game – Put one nut inside a paper bag and fold it so it’s gently closed. Do this for each different kind of nut. We did one each for walnut, pecan, almond, hazelnut, and brazil nut.
Matching Shakers game – put matching amounts of nuts or seeds in pairs of containers so they sound the same when shaken. Some of them sound similar to each other, so you should vary the amount used in order to make them sound different. For example, sunflower seeds sound very similar to pumpkin seeds, so I filled the sunflower seed containers almost to the brim, but only put a few of the pumpkin seeds in their containers, this way the sets sounded different from each other. Also, most of the nuts sounded the same in our containers, so I only used container sets of a single walnut and sets of two hazelnuts. I used corn kernels to make a final set of shakers.
Present the remaining nuts and seeds in a tray along with a magnifying lens.
5 Senses Exploration
Start the exploration by presenting the tray of nuts still in their shell. Think of this as a simple fall sensory bin. For added interest, include magnifying lenses. The kids may want lots of time to explore the nuts. Give them plenty of time to observe them up close. Ask kids to describe what they see. What shapes do we see? (A pecan is similar to an oval, and an almond is similar to a triangle.)
Next encourage the kids to pick up a nut or two and smell them. Talk about any smells they notice. You may want to come back to make more observations about smell after the nuts have been cracked open.
optional extension: Have some almonds and/or pumpkin seeds roasting in the toaster oven to fill the room with the scent of toasted nuts. (Just keep an eye on them and don’t burn them – which can happen quickly.)
While the children are holding the nuts, ask them to describe how they feel. Which ones feel similar? Which ones are very different? Supply texture words for them if they need coaxing (smooth, rough, bumpy, etc…)
Continue exploring the sense of touch with the Mystery Bag game.
Mystery Bag Game
Have each child take one of each kind of nut from the tray and place them in a line in front of them. This will be their sight guide for them to compare to when they are feeling the nut in the mystery bag.
Demonstrate how the Mystery Bag Game works.
- Put one hand in the bag without looking. Feel the nut that’s inside the bag.
- At the same time, look at the nuts lined up in your sight guide, feel free to touch the sight guide nuts with the other hand for comparison.
- Remove your hand from the mystery bag leaving the nut inside the bag so it will be a mystery for others.
- Choose one of the nuts from the sight guide line-up that you think was the mystery nut, and hold that nut in your hand until everyone has had a turn with that mystery bag.)
Take each prepared mystery bag (one at a time) around to each child reminding them constantly not to look in the bag and also not to pull the nut out of the bag.
When everyone has had a turn with that mystery bag, and has chosen the nut from their sight guide that they think is the matching one, reveal the nut that was in the bag.
Note: This will be very challenging for 3 year olds. If there are older kids in the group, let them do the mystery bag first so the younger kids can see which nuts they’re choosing. This will give the little ones a greater chance at success if they can’t figure it out just by touch. With practice, they will learn to be more discerning when it comes to touch.
Continue the process until all mystery nuts have been revealed.
Present a large sunflower head with some seeds still intact for an added textural experience.
Present seeds from a freshly carved pumpkin so they can feel them in their original state.
Present the Matching Shakers game.
Explain the Matching Shakers game:
- Each child, one at a time, will have a turn to shake each container to find matching sounds.
- When you find two containers that make the same sound, set those aside as a pair.
- Continue until all containers are matched up.
For preschool age kids, present only three pairs. I suggest using the pumpkin seeds, corn kernels, and walnuts.
For older kids present all five sets.
After each child’s turn, tell them if they were correct or not.
Allow the kids to help crack open some of the nuts and seeds.
Let the kids taste as they open them, but be sure to talk about what the nuts look like on the inside as well. Try to have the kids name the nuts as much as possible.
I recommend having kids taste the plain nuts first. Then give them some roasted nuts and seeds. Finally, have children dip apple pieces into different nut butters; almond butter, sun butter, etc… At the very end, I let them dip into Nutella (which is a mix of hazelnuts and chocolate).
If you include popcorn, you have a rounded out little snack with a fruit, protein (nut butter), and carb.
I hope you and your littles have as much fun as we did exploring the nuts and seeds using the five senses. In fact, we left the tray of nuts out for weeks afterward for continued sensory enjoyment.
For other easy sensory bin ideas, check out these ones that don’t need clean-up.