Smell is an important sense that activates memories and enhances experiences. Yet, smell is often neglected in learning and in activities designed for children. Our new exhibition was designed to engage children’s sense of smell in their exploration of the story “The Three Little Pigs”.
First time in Norway, and possibly first time in the world, the exhibit introduces children to various story-related odours contained in specially designed smell boxes. The boxes are strategically placed around an adventure trail that corresponds to the Three Little Pigs narrative. Some boxes release concrete smells and some abstract ones, some good ones and some bad ones. The odours are of different intensities, and children can decide for how long and how closely they smell them by opening and closing the boxes.
The exhibition is part of the research project Sensory books, which explores the value of olfaction in reading and learning engagement. The research uses participatory research techniques that value the contribution of all community members, including children’s perspectives. Children provide intriguing insights into the value of smell, and in this exhibition, children are encouraged to use their imagination to interpret the smells and connection to the story. We selected The Three Little Pigs story, as it provides a clear narrative with an important moral: hard work and perseverance pays off at the end. We shortened and adapted the narrative with a less dark ending, and we also gave it a modern twist - the clever pig builds a solid house with chocolate on the stove, while the lazy pig spends time on colouring nails. So that there are several entry points to the story, we provided the story in visual and audio formats. The story text and QR codes for the recorded dramatized version, are displayed on the exhibition panels above each of the piglets’ houses.
The exhibition has gone on display on the 14th of June and will be open until the end of december 2022. The interactive exhibit draws on the expertise of several project partners, whose enthusiasm and creativity are reflected in the final display. The team put together a highly colourful and interactive exhibition featuring the piglets’ houses in the woods. When children start the adventure trail, they are tasked to find the three piglets and follow the story path with a printed map and the pigs’ footsteps on the floor. There is also a drawing area where they can put colours to the drawings of pigs and houses. The recordings of the wolf’s huffing and puffing sounds come from the loudspeakers. Children need to walk around, touch and physically engage with the exhibit to get the most out of it. Thus, although the emphasis is on the olfactory sense, the exhibition engages all senses.
Given the flexibility and portability of the olfactory boxes and a relatively modest budget, there are plans for replicating the exhibition in other countries and locations within the Rogaland region. It is hoped that children, alongside their grown-ups, develop new perspectives on a traditional fairy tale and what it means to follow a story with their nose.
This exhibition is a collaboration between the Learning Environment Center at the University of Stavanger, Vitenfabrikken and Sandnes library. The smell boxes were produced by Lotte Meeuwissen in collaboration with International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF).
Text by Natalia Kucirkova