Skip to main content

Sensory books – Coming back to our senses to transform children’s digital reading

This cutting-edge project researches the power of smells and scents to transform children’s reading.

Publisert: Endret:
Facts
Objectives

To establish the theoretical mechanisms, methodological innovations and learning benefits of children’s e-books enhanced with sensory stimulation, especially smell

Target group

Kindergarten teachers and parent of children age 3-5 years.

Timeline

2021-2025

Professor Natalia Kucirkova explains the project.

About the project

Scents and smells provide unique clues about the environment and they activate interest, engagement, and memories. Yet, the entire educational system relies on audio-visual content and neglects the role of olfaction in children’s learning.

About the project

The focus on olfaction carries specific urgency given the current increased use of antiseptics and sanitation products and an altered sense of smell of those who had Covid-19. This is the first project to examine the educational value of olfaction in children’s learning, with a specific focus on children’s reading.

The main study is conducted in Norway, which has one of the world’s highest Internet coverage, technology availability and digital literacy in the educational sector. Data collection follows a participatory research methodology. This means that the researchers involve children as co-researchers, who together with their parents and teachers, examine the role of scents and smells in children’s digital books. The focus is on 3-5-year-old Norwegian children and their schools and families who will find out whether scented books increase children’s reading engagement, comprehension and learning of story-related vocabulary. In addition, children’s authors and illustrators, app designers, publishers and librarians will contribute to the development of prototypes and ideas.

The project combines psychology, education, literary theory and computer science and diverse cutting-edge methods to provide a new perspective on children’s reading in the digital age.

Why are digital books essential for children’s learning?

Many children, especially those labelled as “reluctant readers” prefer to read digitally, or at least they like digital books as much as print books, which affects their intrinsic motivation to read. Unlike print texts, digital texts can be dynamically shared and modified in the process of reading and personalized to the reader. Digital texts are more cost-effective to produce and deliver to readers who don’t have access to reading materials in print and/or in their native language.

Objectives

Well-designed digital books offer significant learning benefits to children with special learning needs and children with little history of reading at home. Therefore, if we are to achieve social justice and promote the reading of all children, it becomes a moral imperative (a matter of social justice) to ensure that children have access digital books. Our project offers children the possibility to experience high-quality digital reading.

Primary objective is to establish the theoretical mechanisms, methodological innovations and learning benefits of children’s e-books enhanced with sensory stimulation, especially smell.

Outcomes and impacts

The project provides the first experimental evidence on the impact of sensory e-reading, with a focus on a novel component: smell. As such, the project brings a much-needed nuanced approach to the under-theorised debates on digital versus paper and cerebral versus embodied reading. A participatory approach will make a difference to how stories are created and perceived by wider public, with focus on parents’ and teachers’ attitudes towards e-reading.

The outcomes include articles and conference presentations of interest to international researchers, national press coverage, blogs, social media campaigns, and empirically grounded guidelines for Norwegian children’s publishers and kindergarten teachers. This pioneering work with e-books and sensory engagement is likely to have a significant impact on Norwegian kindergartens, publishing industry and international knowledge on e-books.

Methodology

The project generate observational and experimental data; building on best practice in RCT interventions and pioneer the use of participatory research methods with childeren's e-reading and sensory experiences. A mixed-method methodology with qualitative and quantitative methodes will be followed.

The entire educational system relies on audio-visual content and neglects the role of olfaction in children’s learning.

WP1: Meta-analysis

The meta-analysis aims to establish the latest evidence for the use of sensory stimulation (all five senses) as a tool to promote learning. The outcome is precise, quantitative estimates of the size of learning effects of sensory engagement (defined broadly to include all senses), based on a large number of diverse studies. It includes systematic literature review and calculation of effect sizes of published and existing studies/datasets.

WP2: Online national survey

The survey aims to establish Norwegian parents’ and kindergarten teachers’ attitudes towards the connection between children’s story-reading and sensory engagement with e-books. It will produce a comprehensive mapping of the use of e-books in Norwegian families as well as the views of parents and teachers on the ways in which senses influence reading.

WP3: Interactive exhibition with cultural probes

The project team, together with the project partner Vitenfabrikken, organize an interactive exhibition for children living in the local area. The exhibition contain cultural probes, which are a widely used participatory design technique. They consist of kits (with simple materials such as figures, pebbels, feathers, leaves and stickers) distributed to children encouraging them to create their own storyboxes. Cultural probes will be combined with semi-structured contextual interviews to clarify the meaning of children’s artefacts and prompt further reflections.

WP4/WP5: Quantitative experiment

Two experiments will be carried out to evaluate the effectiveness of reading of digital books with and without olfactory stimulation (control condition). The intervention (experimental manipulation) consists of reading digital books provided by the researchers to children to read at home, with and without olfactory stimulation and with and without parents’ help.

WP6: Stakeholder workshops

We will organise workshops with adult professionals to establish their views and ideas on innovative olfactory books.

Description of the exhibition The Three Little Pigs - an scented adventure trail

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”.

vitenfabrikken utstilling
Exhibition sparks childeren's story wonder with smells and scents

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 throughout the summer. 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

About the exhibition

News related to the project

A visit to the Sensory Books Project Team from Turkey

I am Selim Tosun, a research assistant and Ph.D. student from Ankara University Child Development Department in Turkey...

Sensory Books team gathering

On the 16th of August, the Sensory Books team held their first group gathering after the summer holidays. It was a momen...

Sensory books' first project seminar

On the 11th and 12th of May, we held the first Sensory Books Project Seminar. Our first seminar was long awaited after C...

Natalia Kucirkova’s book wins the UKLA Academic Book Award 2021

Professor Natalia Kucirkova has won the UKLA Academic Book Award 2021 for her book ‘How and Why to Read and Create Child...

Researchers and co-workers:

Professor
51834522
Læringsmiljøsenteret, avd. Stavanger
Faculty of Arts and Education

Norwegian Centre for Learning Environment and Behavioral Research in Education
Rådgiver
51831391
Læringsmiljøsenteret, avd. Stavanger
Faculty of Arts and Education

Faculty Administration UH

Administrasjon NSLA Avd. Stavanger
Førsteamanuensis
51832943
Læringsmiljøsenteret, avd. Stavanger
Faculty of Arts and Education

Norwegian Centre for Learning Environment and Behavioral Research in Education
Professor
Faculty of Arts and Education
Postdoktor
51834566
Læringsmiljøsenteret, avd. Porsgrunn
Faculty of Arts and Education

Norwegian Centre for Learning Environment and Behavioral Research in Education

Avdeling Porsgrunn
Seniorrådgiver
51832991
Læringsmiljøsenteret, avd. Stavanger
Faculty of Arts and Education

Faculty Administration UH

Administrasjon NSLA Avd. Stavanger
Stipendiat
Læringsmiljøsenteret, Stavanger
Faculty of Arts and Education

Norwegian Centre for Learning Environment and Behavioral Research in Education
Play, design and learning consultant
+31618949117
Utstillingsansvarlig og formidler
Jærmuseet
Litteraturformidler, barn og unge
Sandnes bibliotek
Assistant Professor
Centre for Language Studies, Radboud University, Nijmegen
Professor of Experimental Psychology
+44 (0)1865 271364
University of Oxford
Professor of Speech & Hearing Sciences
University of New Mexico