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Activity details

Making potions or smelly cocktails is a classic outdoor learning activity. We’ve added some linked literacy activities and given it a seasonal twist for Valentine’s Day – although you could tweak this for any season.

Objectives and curriculum links

This lesson enables students to:

  • consider other’s feelings by deciding what gift or wish would be appropriate for someone close to them
  • use their senses in unusual ways; close observation and lots of smelling!
  • use language creatively to describe their potion and create magical instructions

We've designed the lesson to help teachers cover parts of the KS2 English Curriculum.


You need the following equipment to do this activity:

  • Outdoor space with some plant material available for picking. Even the edge of your playing field or a nearby public park will do. If your outdoor space is a concrete jungle we suggest you collect a couple of carrier bags’ worth of plant material beforehand. (Obviously, don’t pick anything in a flowerbed or any rare wild plants.)
  • Six sets of smelly items – enough for one per child, in a bag or box. Jump down to the Smelly Friends section for details.
  • Whistle
  • Mixing cup for each child
  • One bottle of ‘magic water’, ie a nice glass bottle containing water that has food colouring in
  • Six large bowls or cauldrons

Optional resources:

  • Six egg boxes
  • Cocktail swizzle sticks – you find them online from as little 99p for 25 + P&P
  • Card luggage labels – find them online for as little as £2-£3 for 100
  • Six recycled glass bottles (ideally clear glass)

Lesson plan

Pre-starter (0-5 minutes)

Ask the children to think about someone they love; a family member or a friend. If they could grant them a wish for Valentine’s Day, what would it be? The song ‘I promise you’, by Show of Hands, might be worth a listen to get pupils thinking about wishes that are a bit more abstract than chocolates and flowers. Watch a video of the song on YouTube.

Getting started (5-25 minutes)

Set the challenge. Pupils are to create a positive potion with magical powers to grant a Valentine’s wish to a loved one. Take them outdoors and set boundaries. 

These two warm-up activities are designed to help children get their eye (and nose) in before you start the main task. See the model Risk Assessment (in our download section on this page) for what you need to mention at this point.

Smelly Friends

You need about six sets of items; enough for one item per child. These could be leaves (from your garden or supermarket) or kitchen items (from your fridge or the shop). Ideas include bay leaf, rosemary, lavender, eucalyptus, mint, root ginger, garlic clove, cinnamon stick.

Give out one smelly item each to the children. You’ll need a bag or box to conceal them in, and make a big deal about the children having to hide their item in their hands so that no one else can see it.

The children then have to find their ‘smelly friends’ by milling about and trying to identify who has the same scent as them – no peeping allowed. You should end up with six groups which you can ask the children to stay in for the next activity. 

Scavenger Hunt

There are a million varieties of this brilliant game – they all help children to really see and notice what’s around them. This is a quick and simple version.

Issue each group with an egg box (this is nice, but not essential) plus a list of six things to find, eg something round, something beautiful, something tickly, something that has been eaten, something useful to a bird, and something smooth. You can think up your own criteria or print out our pdf worksheet to hand-out (in our download section on this page).

Make sure you’ve set clear boundaries for where the children can roam and always have a no tasting and no poo rule! You’ll also need to explain to pupils how to forage sensibly, taking plant and animals in the area into consideration.

After a few minutes of searching use your whistle to call the scavengers back in. Lay out the finds in the middle of a circle, grouping together the different categories. Ask children to tell the group about their favourite, most unusual or most troublesome find.

Potion making (25-40 minutes)

Give each child a plastic cup and swizzle stick (you can use bought or foraged sticks). Their task is to collect small pieces of other plant and natural material and mush them up in the cup to release the odour. They need to bear in mind the person they are making it for and the magical properties they want the potion to have.

When everyone’s potion ingredients are gathered, pour a tiny amount of ‘magic water’ into each cup to release the smell. Get the children back into their Scavenger Hunt groups and ask the children to decant their potion and a few bits of prettiness into their group’s cauldron/bowl to make it super powerful. Ask the children to come up with a name for their group’s potion linked to its properties and mingle, sharing their potion smells and possible names.

The label (40-60 minutes)

This part can take place indoors or out. Ask the children to draft, edit and then make a finished label for their group's potion (using the luggage labels or making something similar).  A search for ‘potion labels’ in Google images will give plenty of ideas – although they’re all a bit grizzly and Halloween.

The label needs to include the potion’s name, the potion’s powers – eg ‘guaranteed to bring you sunshine on a rainy day’ – and instructions for use – eg ‘sprinkle three drops onto your pillow when the moon is full’. This is an opportunity for the children to get creative with their language. The labels can be decorated with bits of plant or flower material.

And finally (60-75 minutes)

Ask the children in their groups to re-cap on what powers their potion has, who it is for, and how it should be used. Tell children that they will be sharing the information on their magic potions to the rest of the class, and that in each group everyone needs to be involved in some way with the sharing of information. 

Then display all the potions in the glass bottles to look lovely somewhere.