Senses Background Information for Teachers and Parents

Grade Levels: K-3

This page contains information to support educators and families in teaching K-3 students about the five senses. The information is designed to complement the BrainPOP Jr. movie Senses. It explains the type of content covered in the movie, provides ideas for how teachers and parents can develop related understandings, and suggests how other BrainPOP Jr. resources can be used to scaffold and extend student learning.

This movie provides an overview of the five main senses and introduces the nervous system. BrainPOP Jr. plans to produce movies about each sense and explore each sense more closely. Review the five main senses with your children: sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste. There are also other senses, including speed and acceleration, balance, and pain. Have your children discuss each sense and how they use it everyday. Explain that senses help people and animals observe and understand the world, and keep them safe from harm. The senses are part of the nervous system, which is the group of organs that controls the entire body. The key parts of the nervous system include the brain, spinal cord, and nerve cells.

The nervous system is the control center for the body. Explain to your children that the nervous system controls involuntary actions, or the things that the body does without thinking, such as sweating or digesting food. It also keeps the heart beating. In addition, the nervous system controls voluntary actions, or actions we can control, such as moving and talking. Some actions are both voluntary and involuntary, such as blinking. You may wish to discuss different voluntary and involuntary actions with your children. The brain, spinal cord, and nerve cells are all part of the nervous system. Nerve cells are cells that collect information from the senses and send messages to the brain. The spinal cord is a column of nerves that are inside the spine, or backbone. Explain that it is like a telephone wire that sends messages from the body to the brain, and messages from the brain back to the body.

The senses collect information for the body and helps the body respond to its surroundings. Remind children that they use their skin to touch or feel. The skin is the largest organ and covers the entire body! The skin can sense different temperatures of objects, how wet or dry they are, and gathers information about the texture of objects or how they feel. Skin also receives information about how gently or hard something may be touching the body. Have your students feel different objects together and compare and contrast them. When they touch something, their skin sends messages through nerve cells. The nerve cells send messages through the spinal cord and to the brain. The brain then processes the information, and sends messages back enabling the body to respond.

Remind your children that they use their eyes to see colors and shapes and to recognize words, pictures, and faces. The eyes need light to see, which is why you cannot see in the dark. Eyes can let in different amounts of light to help people and animals see. You may want to demonstrate this concept by having your children look at their eyes in a mirror in a lighted or sunny area and in a dark or shady area. The pupils should change depending on the conditions. Nerve cells in the eyes send information to the brain and the brain interprets the information to recognize shape and color.

Have your children listen carefully. What do they hear? They use their ears to hear. When something makes a sound, sound waves travel to their ears and cause parts of their ears to vibrate, or move back and forth. Nerve cells in the ear pick up those vibrations and send messages to the brain. Their brains can sense whether sounds are soft, loud, high or low pitched. We recommend watching the Sound movie to explore the concept more closely.

Ask your children what their favorite foods taste like. Compare and contrast how different foods taste. How does an orange taste different from strawberries? Remind them that they use their tongues and mouths to taste. The tongue is covered by taste buds, which sense salty, sweet, sour, and bitter things. Taste buds collect information about flavors and send messages to the brain. Note that the idea that the tongue is mapped into four different taste areas is somewhat outdated. The entire tongue can sense all the tastes more or less equally.

Remind children that they use their noses to smell. Nerve cells inside the nose sense odors and transmit information to the brain. The sense of smell is closely linked to the sense of taste. Remind students that when they have a stuffy nose it may be harder to taste their food. With their eyes closed and their noses held, have them try to identify foods. Smells can often trigger memories too. Have your children imagine a smell and talk about what it makes them think about.

The nervous system allows the brain to process the information the body and senses collect. It controls and regulates important processes that allow the body to survive, such as breathing. The senses also help to protect the body from harm. Have your students think of times when their senses can alert them to danger, such as when they smell a fire see a barking dog, or when they hear an alarm. Your children should care for their nervous systems by wearing seatbelts and helmets. Together brainstorm other ways people can care for their nervous systems.