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The Nose Remembers: Use Smell to Engage Kids

I am super sensitive to smells, in several ways. To me, one of the rudest things you can do is wear perfume or cologne out in public. There have been people at churches we pastored that I avoided, because I was afraid they’d hug me and leave that nasty smell all over me. On many occasions I entered the house after church and immediately changed my clothes.
Most of the time, though, smells connect me very strongly to memories—good memories. When I was a kid, my family always took care of the yard work together. When the last clippings were disposed of, we’d jump in the back of my dad’s ’55 candy apple red Chevy truck and go for ice cream at Zesto. To this day, the smell of fresh cut grass makes my mouth water and starts me searching for the first available ice cream store. My dad ran service stations, so the smell of gasoline was always on his clothes. Crazy, I know, but gasoline is a comforting smell to me. He also taught me how to determine whether or not it was “good” gasoline by the smell. I’ve pulled away from many a service station when I got a good whiff of what came out of the pump. I bet you’ve walked into the kitchen of an old house and been bombarded with the stale smell of grease. That smell always makes me picture my plump Granny Gay with her printed dress and smock apron. Special smells. Smells that mean something.
The sense of smell is not one that we draw into our lessons with kids very often. Maybe we ought to rethink that. Maybe we ought to take advantage of the strong connection we make to smells and intentionally introduce them as part of our lessons. The Bible includes over 40 verses referring to smell—both pleasant and foul. God even describes us as a smell. 2 Cor. 2:15 says, “Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God.”

When are you most aware of a smell? It’s not when it slowly rises in the room. It’s when you walk into a house that is filled with that smell. It smacks you in the face! It’s when you open the door of your car and the smell outside hits you. It’s when someone squirts air freshener at you. So, when we’re using the sense of smell to engage kids in the Bible, make sure the smell is strong and that it fills the room when they walk in. That smell will become a memory, because it was so obvious, and then they’ll connect it with what you’re teaching.
Here are some stories that beg to have the sense of smell used as they are being taught.
Jacob and Esau – the smell of a soup cooking
Garden of Eden – smell of flowers
The Woman Anointing Jesus – smell of perfume
The Wisemen’s Gifts – frankincense and myrrh
Jesus Prepares Breakfast – smell of a campfire
Jesus Calls the Fishermen – smell of fresh fish
Last Supper – fresh baked bread
What other ways have you used the sense of smell in your children’s ministry?
Eph. 5:2, “Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.”