I'm trying a new program this fall: Hands-on Science for the after-school crowd. Our first session was about building and engineering.
The kids tend to float in during the hour of the program, so I don't do anything super-organized at the beginning of the program. Instead, I make sure the supplies are ready on the tables and I give the kids an idea of what the goal is. This little speech is easy to repeat as more kids come in.
In this case, I had mini marshmallows and three kinds of pasta available on the tables and I encouraged the kids to build:
- something very tall OR
- something very big OR
- something that could hold our little Angry Birds pig (they loved that he sat on the structures like he does in the game).
I put out three different types of pasta to add to our experimenting skills: which one would be the strongest? I admit I had a bit of a ringer because I chose spaghetti, whole wheat spaghetti, and linguine (the ringer; it's much thicker and sturdier than spaghetti). I was curious about how the whole wheat pasta would work (would whole wheat make it stronger?), but it was "brutally brittle" according to one of the moms helping her five year old son.
Some kids just built awesome things (the first two options) but some were really interested in getting that pig to stay on their tower. I circled the room, asking questions (what could you do to make it stronger?), exclaiming over clever designs, and offering assistance as needed (some kids had parents with them, some were solo).
By the end of the program, three kids had made things that managed to hold our little pig. They were very proud of themselves.
I liked the self-guided exploratory nature of the program, which works well for my crowd of kids who come with parents, kids who come on their own, kids who need to leave early, and kids who may arrive late.
Honestly, the hardest part was convincing the kids that they shouldn't eat the marshmallows. (I gave out handfuls as the kids left - the ones on the tables were no longer edible by the end!)