Science, Math and Art; or how to use stale marshmallows

Sat, 02/05/2011 - 7:29pm -- Jessica Baudin-...

This morning we took the Divas to the Telus World of Science. Bria is a little science nut right now. She is obsessed with anything to do with outer space, so we knew we needed to take her to the new Star Theatre show One World, One Sky: Big Bird's Adventure. Big Bird, Elmo, and a new friend, Hu Hu Zhu, take young children and parents on a journey to learn about the sun, the moon, and the stars. Both Malia and Bria loved the short show (25 minutes, the perfect length for our toddler and preschooler). If you have children between the ages of 2-6 I would recommend checking it out! 

Before the show began we also explored the new Chronicles of Narnia exhibit that opened last month. While it was still a little beyond our girls, Bria really enjoyed an interactive set area that illustrated how arches are built and the importance of a keystone in structural support. Basically you built an arch using large foam blocks over a wooden support, placing the keystone piece last. After you would gently pull out the wooden support. If you had properly built the arch the structure would support itself after the wooden support was removed.

This led Bria and I to a discussion about bridges and building in general. Luckily I remembered this conversation on the way home, when the grocery store was out of the coffee filters I had stopped to pick up for a painting activity I wanted to do this afternoon. They did have packs of toothpicks that could be used with stale marshmallows Mimi had found the other morning at the back of the pantry (and yes she did eat a generous helping before I found her). Elementary math and science curriculums came tumbling back at exactly the right moment!


I had planned on doing this activity with Bria while Mimi was napping, but it was a Diva Day in our house, so Mimi joined us with explicit instructions NOT to eat the marshmallows. She looks sincere, doesn't she? 

I thought I would try to include some of our earlier conversations about building in our activity. I put out three marshmallows and three toothpicks and asked Bria what shape she thought we could build. She instantly recognized it should be a triangle and I showed her how to use the marshmallows to connect the shape. Then I demonstrated how I could use 3 more toothpicks and one marshmallow to make a new shape:

I explained it was a pyramid. "Like in Alladdin!" Bria exclaimed. Yes just like that! We talked bout how triangles were very strong when building big structures for a few minutes before Bria decided she was going to build a dinosaur. I started building geometric shapes using triangles, and Mimi enjoyed poking as many toothpicks as she could into one marshmallow. 

After a few minutes Bria was confused. Why was her dinosaur still "flat and floppy" but mine was "strong". So again we worked on pyramids. I made the top of a pyramid connecting to a base she had designed and then asked her to find another triangle. At first she started to build a flat triangle on the table again, so I encouraged her to look all around her dinosaurs, from different perspectives. Her and I have been talking about perspective since last week when she drew a picture of us having breakfast from a bird's eye view:

Once she understood she needed to be looking for triangles from various perspectives she had no problem moving from 2D to 3D shapes. She even decided she should instruct me how to build my sculpture as well. 

After we had both finished our (very abstract) dinosaurs Bria thought we should connect them together. We talked about the different places we could connect them. Deep thoughts were shared all around: 

Bria: You're sure we shouldn't just eat them Mama?

Me: Yes honey, the marshmallows are stale. Besides then we wouldn't have our beautiful dinosaurs anymore.

Bria: That's ok Mama, Dinosaurs don't live around here anymore anyway!

Me: No... Mimi stop eating the marshmallows! 

Finally we started connecting two sides of our dinosaurs (who were at this point in danger of becoming extinct by the appetites of of two Divas). Again using our amazing triangles we were able to connect the two dinosaurs to create one megasaurus!


During the process Bria kept mentioning how the marshmallows and toothpicks where like the constellations. At first I wasn't sure what she meant, but as we talked more I realized she was referring to the way they had connected the stars with straight lines at the science centre. In fact Mimi must have been paying particular attention to O'Ryan's Belt. 

Speaking of Mimi, while building structures as a bit beyond her at age two (at least during this first experience), she did enjoy trying different methods of squishing, rolling and modelling the marshmallows. She even started to make "cakes" by squishing a bunch together, but ate the project before Chris could snap a picture (because really, what else is cake for?). 

Chris also got in on the marshmallows and toothpicks fun. He even figured out a way to add the valentines theme! A cute idea for kids aged 6-9. 

I didn't want to leave our masterpieces at marshmallow monster Mimi height, so I decided to loop them with thread and hang them up. 

This activity was low on cost and mess but high on fun and creativity. It was the perfect Saturday afternoon art project. But really you can take this activity in so many different conceptual directions, like they did over at The Living Classroom.  I am sure I will be pulling out over and over. 

I'd love to hear your feedback if you decide try this activity or have in the past!