One of my favorite things about working in elementary education is being absolutely blown over by the imaginations of my kiddos. I welcome any opportunity to let my students show me their creative sides. While I incorporate plenty of more traditional creative activities in my lessons (story writing, drawing, painting), I love seeing what my kids come up with when given materials that they would not frequently encounter.
My favorite creative tools for young learners are mini-marshmallows and toothpicks. Any materials that only require a quick trip to any grocery store and do not eat up a ton of classroom budget dollars are winners in my book.
After the initial “woman, you’re crazy” look that students give me when I explain what our materials will be, I find that kids LOVE to work with these tools.
Marshmallows and toothpicks can be used as a center during structured play, or as a whole group activity. I have seen kindergarteners through third graders really get into building creatively with these materials.
Some ways to present the activity:
1) Free building
It is so interesting to see what your students will create when there are no parameters. I have seen children create perfect cubes, long winding roads, space crafts, cars and people out of their marshmallows.
2) Make Shapes
Tie the activity into your math unit. Make two or three-dimensional shapes using marshmallows for corners or vertices.
3) Building a structure
Challenge your students to create a specific structure, like a building or a bridge. Make it interesting by filling a tub of water and have students create a bridge that will suspend over the container. Or see who can build the strongest building by placing playing cards or unifix cubes on top of the finished products and seeing which structure will hold the most! (In that case, tell students before hand what items the building is expected to hold so that they can build accordingly.)
4) Make a town
Create a grid system on a poster board and have students fill the grid with houses, trees, buildings and other structures that one might find in a town. It is so fun to see what elements small children find essential to a thriving downtown!
- Plan on using a bag of marshmallows for every five to six children. You will find that some students will work with more materials, while others will keep their designs simple. For younger students, fifteen toothpicks per child will be enough. When working with older children (grades 2+), plan to use more materials. Older students may way to create more intricate structures, and in my experience, will use as many materials as you give them!
- Prepare your materials a day or two early. The marshmallows make a more perfect building tool if they have been left out for 24-48 hours before being used. Empty the bags into a Tupperware container, bin or bucket and leave uncovered until you are ready to use them.
- A serious discussion about marshmallows being tools for building and not a snack will save your patience later. It may also save your classroom from the rampant spread of several childhood illnesses. I find this tip also helpful when working with cheerios, uncooked pasta, and paper mache. No joke. Wet, slimy newspaper strips. Yummy.
So, let those kids get crazy with their marshmallows. Get excited to be wowed.