Beyond the five senses: Temperature

There are many more senses to explore, such as the sense of temperature.

In elementary school, you were probably taught about five senses: sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. In reality, we can observe many other things beyond those five senses. Using all of our senses allows us to better understand the world around us and use those observations to make scientific predictions.

Sense of temperature

Many people can accurately estimate distance or volume. How good are you at estimating temperature? Have you ever noticed how the same room temperature feels different in winter than it does in summer? A 68 degree Fahrenheit room can feel comfortably cool during summer, but uncomfortable during winter.

Here are some experiments to test your sense of temperature:

  1. Ask children to seek out what parts of the room are coldest and warmest. Test their accuracy with an infrared thermometer. You may want to chart these temperatures on a graph.
  2. Have several drinks for the children, some of them iced, some room temperature and some warm. Ask them to guess the temperature of the drinks, then measure the temperature with an infrared thermometer. After you give them the correct temperature on their first drink, have them guess the other temperatures again. Will their accuracy improve?
  3. Have a metal object and a wooden object in the room. Ask the children to touch them both and say which is colder. Then, measure the temperature with an infrared thermometer. Why does the metal object feel so much colder? Try touching objects made of different substances and see how cool they feel. Compare the temperature of the objects to the temperature of their skin.
  4. Have children use different parts of their hand to determine temperature. Do fingertips, the thumb, the palm, the back of the hand or wrist feel different temperature-wise? Why or why not? Depending on the situation, you might even compare how feet or cheeks feel different temperature-wise too.
  5. Why do blankets make us feel warmer? Do they actually make us warmer? How does that work? Use an infrared thermometer to get the temperature on a child’s skin, then have them snuggle under the blanket for several minutes. Do they think their skin temperature will change? Why? Is the blanket warm on its own? Use the thermometer to measure the temperature of the blanket. Do all blankets work the same? Try blankets of different thickness or with different fabrics. Try using other items as blankets, such as newspapers, tarps, tin foil, gym mats or leaves outside on an autumn day. Have children predict how they might work differently, then test them out.
  6. How does water affect how we feel temperature? If you use a spray bottle to gently mist a child’s arm, will they feel warmer or cooler? Does the temperature of the water matter? Why or why not? How does this relate to sweating?
  7. What is humidity and how does it change how we feel temperature. Bring a humidifier into the room during dry winter weather. Show it to the children. Fill it with water and mark the level on the humidifier. Notice the next day how the level of water changes. Where did the water go? Does the water affect how warm or cool the room feels? Why or why not?

Have fun doing all these temperature experiments, and if you don’t know the answers, that’s OK. It is about the joy of discovery and asking questions.

Michigan State University Extension encourages families, daycares, school activities, 4-H clubs or any group working with young children to conduct these experiments. The focus of these lessons aren’t to simply impart knowledge, but to facilitate the joy of discovery and the exploration of the world around us. This is not designed to “give youth the answers,” but to empower them to ask questions and figure things out on their own. When a young person asks a question, resist the urge to answer it, and instead ask, “What do you think?”

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