Marshmallows and toothpicks help youth practice teamwork, communication and leadership

Teamwork, communication and leadership can happen when you pair a group of youth, marshmallows and toothpicks!

Help youth with teamwork and communication with a fun marshmallow and toothpick activity! Photo credit: Pixabay free image use photos. | Michigan State University Extension

Help youth with teamwork and communication with a fun marshmallow and toothpick activity! Photo credit: Pixabay free image use photos. | Michigan State University Extension

Did you know that you can use marshmallows and toothpicks to teach youth about teamwork, communication, leadership and so much more? These important topics are considered life skills. According to Michigan State University Extension, life skills help youth become successful in their everyday life and help them succeed into the future. A simple and fun way to teach life skills is by using marshmallows and toothpicks to build a tower. Check out the instructions below!

Supplies needed: toothpicks (1 box per team) and small marshmallows (1 bag per team)

Preparation: Give each team one box of toothpicks and one bag of marshmallows. You might also want to cover the tables or floors from falling marshmallows.

Do:

  • Pass out one box of toothpicks and one bag of marshmallows to each team. Make sure they don’t open their materials until it’s time to start!
  • Explain that they are going to try and build the tallest, free-standing tower they can with only the marshmallows and toothpicks. They can use no other materials.
    • The tower must be able to stand on its own without helping hands or other objects (it must be free-standing). This means no holding the tower or leaning it against another object. It must stand on its own for 10 seconds to be measured.
    • To measure the tower’s height, it will be measured from the highest point to the base of the tower.
    • Once the youth are clear on the instructions, give them a set time to work as a group on their towers. Give them reminders of the amount of time they have left to complete their towers. Then once the time is up, measure the towers!

Reflect and apply:

Now, here comes the learning part. We played with marshmallows and toothpicks, but how do you teach youth about teamwork, communication and leadership? It’s all in the questions that you ask them! Reflecting on the activity that they just did and applying what they learned to other situations in life is more important that the actual activity. This is part of the Experiential Learning Model: Do, reflect and apply.

Here are some questions that you can ask youth about building their marshmallow tower that help bring out those life skills of teamwork, communication and leadership. For more questions, check out the Experiential Learning Model Questions from University of Missouri Extension.

  • How did you decide what type of structure to build?
  • How did you keep track of everyone’s ideas?
  • What was the most challenging or difficult part of the activity?
  • What did you learn about communication? Decision making?
  • What did you do when your group members didn’t agree?
  • Is there anything you would do differently after seeing the other structures?
  • How can the things you learned today by used to help you in other situations?

Using reflecting and applying questions after each activity is a great way to get youth to really talk about what they learned and how they can apply it to other life situations. Make it a habit to use the Experiential Learning Model in your work with youth. 

For more articles on child and youth development, academic success, parenting and life skill development, visit the MSU Extension website.

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