The provocation: A bowl of gumdrops and a handful of toothpicks.
The first question: “Can I eat these?”
Oh yeah, I guess they do kind of look like a snack.
The second provocation (after we each ate a gumdrop, just to get that elephant out of the room): A square base of four gumdrops, attached together with four toothpicks, and one more toothpick sticking straight up out of the base.
And with that, the race gates opened and the horses were off! Without saying another word, N quickly understood the challenge and got right to work. And what small child on a minor sugar high wouldn’t be excited to work with colorful toothpicks and rainbow-colored gumdrops?
Notice little sister in the background. I promise some baby-related activities one day soon.
A few months back I set up a similar provocation with marshmallows and toothpicks, and while we were able to build some simple structures, it was a small flop. It’s easy enough to pierce the marshmallows with toothpicks, but they don’t do as good of a job holding a complex structure together. I also tested jellybeans, but the hard candy surface wasn’t forgiving enough. The gumdrops are really malleable and my daughter didn’t need too much of my help manipulating them. So empowering!
She decided this structure was a cable car — we live near San Francisco, after all — so we found a couple passengers interested in taking a ride.
After she built this form she exclaimed, “It’s a pitched roof!!” Ah, I love witnessing the transfer of knowledge. You never know when these moments are going to hit, and it’s so fun to be there when they do.
And this is what she accomplished before it was time to get dinner ready. After dinner she and her dad kept working on these, and then there was more building the next day. As the structures got bigger and more complex, we talked about the strength of triangles, which added a a new dimension to what she was able to build. Stay tuned for day two!
More on the science behind this project can be found through one of my very favorite sites (and places to visit), The Exploratorium: Geodesic Gumdrops.