Looking for a sweet way to get your kids interested in STEM activities like designing, engineering and problem-solving? Look no further than your own kitchen cabinets! We’re going to show you how kids can build houses, pyramids, Ferris wheels, and more, using skinny mini pretzel sticks, uncooked spaghetti sticks and toothpicks, plus candy connectors like gumdrops, marshmallows, and gummy candies.
Tools of the trade
Just looking at this colorful spread of treats will get kids’ creative juices flowing. We like to get everything out of its packaging so kids can see all their options at a glance. There are lots of different items you can use, but here are some ideas:
- Thin mini pretzels
- Uncooked spaghetti
- Licorice sticks
- Thin hard candy sticks
- Marshmallows, mini and jumbo size
- Sandwich cookies, mini and regular size
- Pull-and-peel licorice
- Gummy candies
A great way to get started is with a few simple geometric shapes. Show children how to gently push a pretzel or spaghetti strand or toothpick into a gumdrop or marshmallow and connect to another pretzel/spaghetti/toothpick. Allow time for kids to explore and experiment with different rods and connectors to see which they prefer. Younger kids can work on creating squares and different types of triangles. Challenge older kids to explore hexagons and octagons.
Ask your kids what letters they can make with the tasty tools at hand. Constructing letters is more fun when you can nibble at the pieces that are too long! Older kids can construct letters that stand up, as in our photo, and begin building simple words. For younger kids, make things easier by allowing the letters to lie flat. The youngest kids can simply arrange the rods without the connectors. Whichever way they go, they’re all getting a little bonus literacy practice in!
From 2D to 3D
To return to the geometry theme, start to explore 3D shapes. You can hold up one of the squares your child created and asked if they can make a cube or box shape out of it. Give their critical thinking skills a workout by asking them to decide how many more pasta sticks/pretzel rods they will need before they begin building. See if they can figure out the number of marshmallow connectors as well. Do the same with the triangle. If your kids are older, they can make more advanced shapes like a hexagonal prism and octagonal pyramids. Depending on their age and patience, they could even construct a geodesic dome!
Dream house designs
Kids can have fun and tap into their creativity by designing and building their own mini dream houses with the different treats. The simplest house shape is just a cube with a triangular prism on top. Our little architect above created a dream house with a “backyard Ferris wheel” and “forever rainbow.” You can definitely see imagination at work here!
Tips and tricks
After doing most of our projects with pretzel rods and spaghetti sticks, we started using the toothpicks and found them to be the best and easiest for building. Their uniform size made it easy to keep our structures square and sturdy. The gumdrops seemed to be the sturdiest material for connectors. Designing, testing and tweaking are all important steps in the STEM process, so we simply tried our earlier dream house with the new materials and were very pleased with the results.
Our updated Ferris wheel was fun to make, and more colorful than the original.
We couldn’t resist a few purely decorative touches, like the round “window,” licorice pathway, and bunny family. So in the end, our project became a perfect STEAM activity, incorporating Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math. Or should we call it a STEAMS activity, since it also included lots of Snacking?
Learning is Where We Play: