04/05/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Parenting Advice: Tapping the Power of Scents to Enhance Learning

An electric purple bunch of grapes with goggle eyes and a silly grin stuck on the top of my homework was the greatest thing in the whole world, because when I scratched it smelled like a super-sugary version of grape. I can almost smell those scratch-n-sniff stickers from third grade. Why is this childhood memory of mine more crystal clear to me then many of things I saw and did last week? Is it simply nostalgia? Or is there something more to it? I went in search of answers to these questions to learn more about scent and memory. Laying in bed one night, my best friend's dog, Mo, who was rescued as a puppy, leapt into my dream. A few inspired restless hours later I had landed on the concept for the "Mo's Nose" scentsational books series. I knew that I wanted readers to be able to experience the world like Mo does -- with their noses. Every time I wrote about "seeing" colors with the nose, my mind would return to those grape stickers from third grade.

Researching and creating these scent-filled adventures, I discovered that the sense of smell is a powerful and overlooked part of how we learn, experience and remember. Smells create "Proustian Memories," which are long-term memories that elicit strong emotional responses. Primal, immediate and complex, the sense of smell is our most powerful sense: 10,000 times more powerful than the other senses and directly connected to the limbic system, which is the place in the brain where memories and emotions are processed. There have been many studies that link certain smells, especially from 100-percent essential oils or aromatherapy, with improved focus, learning and memory. A 2002 study in Russia tested peppermint aroma on schoolchildren and found that it consistently improved grades on tests. Duke University has also done a series of experiments with mice "that have shown that the part of the brain that processes scents is indeed a key to forming long-term memory." Researchers have also consistently found that incorporating more senses when you are learning something has a more substantial and long-lasting effect on memory.

I've now written four books in the "Mo's Nose" series, and I continue to get feedback every day from parents and children who are discovering this connection between scent and learning. Parents and teachers of learning disabled children have emailed repeatedly to thank us and let us know that incorporating the sense of smell has helped these children connect with the books and the concept of color, and stay focused. With its clear and immediate link to the brain, our noses can lead the way to focus and lasting memories. And for our children, this connection can lead to the sweet smell of successful learning!

Here are three simple steps to incorporate the sense of smell into your child's learning environment:

1. Buy and let your children smell 100-percent essential oils and see what scent they like and respond to. I recommend starting with the following oils: Peppermint: A refreshing scent that research has shown to help improve memory and test scores. Spearmint: Similar properties as peppermint, but a little milder. Cinnamon Leaf: Energizing, focusing and revitalizing, cinnamon leaf enhances active reasoning. Grapefruit: A tangy, citrus scent that is stimulating and is especially loved by children. Lavender: A calming, relaxing and refreshing scent, which is the most popular oil in aromatherapy; I would only use this for relaxing or de-stressing post school or post homework, or for more restful sleep.

2. Buy a room diffuser, put the recommended number of drops of your child's favorite scent on the diffuser and let it run while your child is studying and doing homework. I prefer Aura Cacia Oils, available at and they also make two diffusers that are inexpensive and easy to use, linked here and here.

3. Most importantly, you must send your child to school with a handkerchief or small cloth with the a few drops of the same oil that you diffused during homework time. They can smell this before a test or just periodically during the school day.

In addition to the three easy steps above, especially for younger children, you can have them read and smell the aromatherapy scents in "Mo Smells Green," which features specially blended 100-percent aromatherapy oils, before starting homework and let them take it to school during the day and smell it during free time.