Have you noticed that when you smell a particular odor, memories come flooding back? Maybe it’s a scent from your childhood that brings to mind your mother cooking one of your favorite foods in the family kitchen. Maybe it’s a fragrance that a particular person wears, and when you smell it, all of the memories of your experiences with that person are recalled.
Your sense of smell is the most strongly related to memory. People are keenly aware of the circumstances associated with smells. Did you know, however, that certain smells can calm the brain, and others can excite or invigorate the brain, while still others have the ability to improve concentration and memory?
Before we begin this discussion, be aware that certain students in your classroom may have allergies. You will not want to do anything to cause a student to become uncomfortable or to aggravate his or her allergies. Therefore, take this fact into consideration when using aromas in your classroom. If you do have such a student, then use the information regarding aromas to make your house a more inviting place. This is exactly what I did.
When I worked in the Department of Professional Development with the DeKalb County School System, I had a metal ring placed on a lightbulb in my office. I poured lavender oil into the metal ring. Whenever I turned on that lamp, the lightbulb would heat the metal ring, sending the aroma of lavender into the air. Lavender has a very calming effect on the brain, so the combination of classical music played on my CD player, low lighting, and a rock garden in the corner made my office a calming and brain-compatible place. People would come into my office and not want to leave. However, the lavender bothered the allergies of a person in my department, so I discontinued its use.
Today, in my home, I have scented plug-ins in the bedrooms and ceramic pots in the larger room. In the bottom of the ceramic pots, I have tea lights, or the pots plug into the wall to be heated. In the tops of the pots, I have my favorite liquid scents. My favorite aromas come out only twice a year. The scent autumn leave comes out at Thanksgiving, and the scent balsam and cedar only appears on the store shelves at Christmas, so I buy enough of both fragrances for the entire year at those times. Needless to say, after a busy week of traveling, I look forward to coming home to a relaxing environment, and aromas add to that atmosphere.
What the Research Says
Undergraduate students performed better in word-association and word-naming tasks after being exposed to the odors of vanilla and lavender (Pauli, Bourne, Diekmann, & Birbaumer, 1999; Schnaubelt, 1999).
Adding a scent of lemon to the classroom helps to involve all of the senses in student experiences (Feinstein, 2004).
The brain processes the sense of smell unlike any of the other physical senses; therefore, that sense enjoys undisturbed, unfiltered access to the brain (Jensen, 2007).
Make It Happen
- Use peppermint, cinnamon, and citrus (especially lemon and orange) scents to energize students late in the school day. Thyme and rosemary are also energizing fragrances.
- Use lavender, jasmine, vanilla, chamomile, or eucalyptus to calm the brains of students and reduce stress. Calming fragrances paired with calming music can relieve a large percentage of your discipline concerns.
- If you have students who are allergic to certain fragrances and you, therefore, cannot place them in the room for all to smell, purchase a car jar. Car jars are individual packets of specific aromas that students can smell, but the fragrance is not pervasive enough to cover the room. Place the car jar at one place in the room (away from the student who is allergic), and allow students to get up one at a time and take a sniff when needed.
For more examples of how to use aromas in your life and your classroom to benefit the brain, consult the 2nd edition of my best-selling book, Shouting Won’t Grow Dendrites.