A while back Farmerboy and I watched an episode of Curious George that was all about building bridges. The kids in the video clip following the episode were attempting to build bridges using marshmellows and toothpicks. I'd heard of the idea before, but this time I made sure it stayed in the front of my brain. Farmerboy is the kind of kid who likes projects. He wants to do things. Experiments and any kind of construction are generally big hits.
So. Usually Andy does the grocery shopping after work, but I finally managed to get to a store in person and saw a display of marshmellows, and of all things - toothpicks! I picked up about 4 bags and a couple of boxes of toothpicks, and we were off.
I don't have these out on a shelf. The marshmellows, along with any creations, are kept in ziploc bags in the pantry. The pantry is easily accessible to Farmerboy, who can build with marshmellows whenever he likes as long as he picks up afterward. The only problem is insuring that the construction materials aren't all eaten by the end of the week.
Farmerboy's first creations were simple strings of marshmellows and toothpicks which he would test by stringing out over supports made of books, blocks, toys, chairs, etc. He told me it was hard to build "up" because the marshmellows kept falling over. One afternoon I asked him if I could build, too, and I built with squares and triangles to show him how he might be able to build higher. I didn't say: "I will show you how...", I just started building. He saw how I did it, and began to include the same shapes in his building.
Starting to build a bridge using both squares and triangles, for support. While building, he hypothesized that he could keep the "walls" from falling in by connecting the marshmellows across the top.
As Farmerboy worked with his marshmellows, he had the idea that he could build a marshmellow "city", with houses and buildings and "power plants". (The kids have been playing Sim City lately, and "cities" are a recurring theme around here lately. I have some ideas stewing about that, too.) He started using some other materials in his construction, like playing cards:
The cards make good platforms for bridges and roofs for houses. He also wanted the "buildings" to be different colors, so I thought that he might be able to do that with food color paint. We diluted the food coloring with quite a bit of water and used a brush, and the results turned out not too badly. But food coloring doesn't really mix too well on the marshmellows; some of the colors get kind of muddy. Farmerboy also experimented with dunking the marshmellows directly in the food coloring paint, but that results in soggy marshmellows.
At this point, somehow all the marshmellows got eaten, so it was back to the store for a few more bags and another gentle reminder that we cannot go through 4 bags of marshmellows in a week and a half (or so). This time I picked up a bag of small colored marshmellows, too. (I'd been looking for gumdrops, but I couldn't find any.)
I've been having some technical difficulties with the USB ports on the desktop, so I'm having to figure out a few quirks about downloading pictures onto my laptop. I think I have some pictures of Farmerboy's latest creations, which are more complicated geometric forms involving toothpicks as diagonals, but they aren't downloaded yet.
What do I think he's learning from all of this? Well, obviously quite a bit of geometry. But also problem-solving skills, science (there's a bit of physics involved in building bridges), art, and arithmetic (he often counts the marshmellows). It's also good fine motor work. And it happens to be fun.
To go from here, I bought some neon-colored straws to cut up and use as different connectors. I would also like to find some gumdrops and possibly some of those candy orange slices. To extend the "building with food" idea (and because Farmerboy has been bugging me for "little pans so I can learn to cook"), I'm going to bring out my copy of Cooking Art. This also may finally be the Christmas that we make a gingerbread house, but I'm not promising anything just yet.