Kids’ STEM Workshops: Marshmallow Igloos!

With snow on the ground and Wisconsin suffering from a cold snap, it was the perfect night to talk about how Inuit people build houses with nothing by the natural materials their environment gives them: snow and ice. And, what better way to learn about it than by experimenting with geometric shapes to build igloos of our own…in the comfort of the heated library with marshmallows and toothpicks as our building materials of choice!

The skinny: This was a wonderful winter themed STEM program, and it brought in working with 3-D geometric shapes, which is a program that I had not done before. We had many families attend, which was surprising since they it was January and many families were still out of their normal routine with December not so far in the past. But come they did!

I found this idea on Lemon Lime Adventures blog and knew that we had to try it!  We offered this program in January as a wintry theme and a way to introduce both engineering and math through geometry designs.

Cost: Plan on about $.30 per child.

Supplies Needed:
I used 7 10 oz. bags of mini marshmallows
5 boxes of 500 count toothpicks
Sandwich bags
Paper plates to build on (and carry their creations home!)

I was able to divide all these supplies into 55 bags to serve 55 children.

I did not want the kids to feel that the supplies were limitless. I was able to divide each 10 oz. bag of mini marshmallows into 6-7 smaller sandwich bags. This way each child will know exactly how much they have to work with, and once their marshmallows were gone, they were done building their designs. I put the toothpicks on the tables for kids to use as they needed (1 box per table with about 10 kids at each table).

Resources:
Knowing nothing about igloo building, I went online and found some helpful YouTube videos.
How Do Eskimos Make Igloos?
Traditional Inuit Construction
Building an Igloo Text and photos by Ulli Stelzer

How it went: I brought all the kids as they arrived into our Storytime/Programming Room. It had been a few weeks since I had seen them, so I started out asking what they had over Christmas break from school. We always get great responses to open-ended questions! It was cold and snowing outside, so that was a perfect way to bring up igloos! I asked the kids if they had been playing in the snow and if they had ever tried to build an igloo out of snow. Many of them had, but they also admitted that it had collapsed. I shared some fun facts about igloos, including the fact that igloos are very warm inside! Your body heat warms the area, and it can be 60-70 degrees in there!

I then took out my book, Building an Igloo.  We picture read the book together as group, where I would hold up the book and ask the kids to tell me what the man was doing in each picture. This was a great way to involve the kids in the reading and telling, and it also gave me a chance to fill in additional details about igloo building that they left out when telling me about the pictures.

Then, it was time to build! Each child was given a sandwich bag already filled with marshmallows. I had toothpicks on the tables. I showed them my design for an igloo and how I built my base. I then took my design away because I wanted them to experiment with their own designs. I was worried that we would get lots of squares, and I really wanted them to work to build a dome because is a much more difficult geometric shape to engineer. I need not have worried. The kids did a great job coming up with their solutions for igloo building! I went around the room and helped out where necessary. Some of the kids finished their igloo in about 15 minutes. I told them to design another one using a different base or structure. They picked up on it right away and began building a second design! After about 14 minutes I announced that I would be going from table to table and I asked each child about their design. This is an important part of the program because it is an opportunity for a positive interaction between myself as a librarian and the kids who are in the program with their family. All the kids enjoy talking about what they create, and it is good for them to brag to the librarian!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *