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May 25, 2011

Popsicle Sticks as Toys? Really?

by aliciaarnold
Color The Snow

Image by Joe_Andrews via Flickr

Article first published as Popsicle Sticks as Toys? Really? on Technorati.

My youngest son came home beaming last week. He had a wonderful day at school and was even chosen to be “Star of the Day.” At the dinner table, he showed us his prize for being the star. Sitting next to him were 6 popsicle sticks that he had arranged into a pattern. We oohed and ahhed as my son manipulated the popsicle sticks into stars, planes and birds.

Watching my son playing with the popsicle sticks brought back memories of my childhood. As a child, whenever I went to the pediatrician, he would give me a bunch of tongue depressors as a treat for being good. I shared this memory with my family. My oldest son said, “Really?!? That’s all he gave you? What kind of prize is that?”

While my husband joked, “Back in mommy’s day they didn’t have toys, so they had to play with popsicle sticks instead.”

This became a teachable moment. I took my family’s joking as a challenge and set out to create an experiential learning activity to show them just how much fun playing with sticks could be. Using the popsicle sticks, I wove together a creation that my youngest son named a “trapezoid.”

Now here’s the fun part. Creating the trapezoid combines hands-on learning with what kids enjoy most – action, surprise, and activity. Your kids will never suspect they’re learning about math and science as they’ll be engrossed in the experience. For, when you throw the trapezoid onto the ground, it bursts into 6 pieces! You can rebuild and play over and over again.

Here are instructions so you can make a trapezoid of your very own along with questions you can ask to promote learning.

Step 1: Hold three sticks in your hand like this

Step 2: Weave one popsicle stick through, like this

Step 3: Weave the next popsicle stick through, like this

Step 4: Weave the last popsicle stick through, like this

Now, toss your trapezoid onto the ground and let the fun begin!

To layer in the learning experience, have your child reflect on the following questions:

  • What holds the sticks together?
  • What would happen if you wove just two sticks rather than three?
  • Why does the trapezoid fall apart when you throw it?
  • What pattern is used in the weave?
  • What ideas does the trapezoid give you?

My kids played with their trapezoid all weekend – returning again and again to rebuild. This is one of the benefits of experiential learning. Research has found, unlike lectures, hands-on activity is a more effective teaching tool. With your at-home classroom, you can achieve what many schools are striving to accomplish, a better way of teaching.
When I asked my older, disbelieving, son what he thought of popsicle sticks as toys now, he smiled and replied, “Cool!” Just as a picture speaks a thousand words, my son’s one word answer said so, so much more. Because I kept my son’s interest, he didn’t suspect he was learning, but now knows a bit more about the science of physics and mathematical patterns than he did before.

With that, I thank my son’s teacher and my childhood doctor for foregoing plastic trinkets for sticks and inspiring creativity and experiential learning.

Save the sticks from frozen treats and show your kids how much fun tapping into their imaginations can be. They’ll be amazed at how you can turn something as mundane as popsicle sticks into so much fun! Cool!

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