Science Themed Snacks

I teach a STEM enrichment class for children age 2.5 – 7, called Family Inventors’ Lab. We’re a cooperative program, which relies on parent volunteers in the classroom. Once each quarter, a parent is responsible for bringing and serving snacks for the whole class.

As a working parent of a small child, I understand that life is busy, so I always say it’s totally fine if they just bring in anything they happen to have handy in the cabinet.

But… if they WANT to tie into the theme of the week, they can. If they WANT to lead a “cooking” activity, they can. This post is my collection of ideas to match each of the themes this year.  They’re only suggestions – almost anything the parent wants to do is OK. (Parents, see more tips at the bottom of this post.)

10-Sep         CDL        What is an Inventor?

Provide some kind of “invented food.” For example, instead of fresh blueberries, a natural whole food, provide freeze-dried blueberries – where a scientific process has changed and prolonged the edible life of the blueberries. We also had microwave popcorn – a natural whole grain has other ingredients added to it, and then a modern technology is used to cook it.

17-Sep         RW        Engineering: Towers

Build a tower of food, also known as a fruit kebab: bring long bamboo skewers, and fruit, cut into cubes or other small shapes… bananas, melon, blueberries (whole), strawberries, pineapple all work well. Kids build their tower on a skewer, then eat it.

24-Sep         CDL       Simple machines: pulley & inclined plane

Inclined planes snack: graham crackers and grapes (they can roll the grape down the cracker ramp).

1-Oct           CDL       Engineering: Tunnels and bridges

Build structures with food: provide toothpicks and cheese cubes and/or grapes and/or cubes of French bread, let children build their towers, then dismantle and eat. (You could use other foods, like cubes of apple or melon, or peas, or marshmallow, or gum drops. But, grapes, bread and cheese are easy and healthy. Tip for making cheese cubes… it’s easier when you start with cheese sticks than a big fat block of cheese. Just cut off slices and you have cubes.)

8-Oct           CDL       Simple machines: wedge & lever

Make your own fruit salad. The littlest kids can slice bananas or seedless watermelon with table knives or plastic knives. Middle-size kids could use scissors to snip marshmallows (or maybe grapes) into smaller pieces. Older kids could cut apples, or oranges with a sharper knife. You could also use a melon baller (a variant on a wedge) to cut the melon.

(Hint for why this snack applies to the theme: Knives and scissor blades are wedges.)

15-Oct         RW        If I Built a House

Simplified (and healthier) gingerbread houses: graham crackers for walls, cream cheese or sunflower seed butter to be the “cement” to stick walls together. and dried fruits for decorations.

22-Oct         CDL       Simple machines: axles & screw

Refrigerated make-your-own crescent rolls – you’re rolling an inclined plane up to make a screw shape. Plus apples to use with the Apple Peeler and Slicer that we have in the classroom. OR Rotini noodles and wagon wheel shaped noodles with red sauce. Cook them before class, so when kids want a serving, you can heat up just enough for that child.

29-Oct         CDL       Not Simple Machines: If I Built a Car

Cheese sticks and mini bagels for wheel and axle: http://karascreativeplace.blogspot.com/2010/04/wheel-and-axle-snack.html, or, since we’ll do a “drive-in movie” that day, could do popcorn.

5-Nov          CDL       Electricity

Something that you need electricity to prepare. 🙂   Something you mix with a hand mixer or a blender. (You’d need to bring one in, as I don’t think we have these in the classroom.) Or something you cook in a toaster oven or in a microwave. One option would be making fruit and yogurt smoothies in a blender… you could have them practice mashing up a little food by hand to see what hard work that is, and then putting food in the blender and whirring it quickly.

12-Nov        CDL       Engineering: Rube Goldbergs & Take Aparts

My only idea is wedges of cheese… we’ll be playing Mousetrap. If you have any other ideas, suggest them in comments!

19-Nov        RW        Wind and Flight

Some kind of “puffs” (Pirate booty, puffed Cheetos, puffed cereal) and straws. They can use a straw to blow around ONE puff while they eat the rest.

3-Dec           CDL       Chemistry – States of Matter

Make your own ice cream. You’d bring all the supplies… recipe here:  https://inventorsoftomorrow.com/2016/1/05/states-of-matter/

Or, if that’s overwhelming, then bring pre-made ice cream and that ice cream topping that’s liquid when you pour it and then hardens when it hits the ice cream. (Note: ask us where the freezer is so we can store the ice cream for the first half hour of class)

Or make popcorn. (When you cook it, the liquid in the kernel turns into a gas, which expands, and causes the “explosion” which turns the kernel into popped corn.)

10-Dec         CDL       Chemistry – Mixtures, solutions, reactions

We’d love to do pancakes, to go with a book we’ll be reading. Coordinate with the teachers to find out what ingredients we would need you to bring.

Beverage: usually, we do only water at snack. But, this week only, we like to do Kool-Aid, or some powdered drink (solid) that they mix with water (liquid) and it dissolves/mixes.

17-Dec         RW        Chemistry – More reactions

Make your own ice cream. (If we didn’t make it two weeks ago.)

Or, if you’re up to it, we could do a yeast bread recipe… we’d need to work together to coordinate this, because we’d need to make the dough at the very beginning of class so it could get a (SHORT) rising time, then shape the rolls at the very end of tinkering time, to eat between outdoor times… timing would be a bit tricky.

7-Jan            CDL       Light and Shadow

Oreos? (And milk to dip them in.) Or something with distinctive silhouettes (like animal crackers) that they could shine a bright flashlight at and see its shadow on the table before eating it.

14-Jan          CDL       Weather and Rainbows

Colorful food: Could do rainbow goldfish, or graham crackers with rainbow chip frosting, or could do fruit skewers where they’d put colorful fruit on a bamboo skewer in rainbow order (red watermelon, orange orange, yellow pineapple, green kiwi or honeydew, blueberries, purple plum or blackberries.)

21-Jan          RW        Dinosaurs

PCC and Whole foods have a dinosaur shaped cheese puff snack. Or there’s Dinosaur Egg oatmeal. There’s probably other dinosaur shaped snack foods. Make jello eggs with a dinosaur shaped gummy or fruit snack inside.

28-Jan          CDL       Geology: Earth & Earthquakes

We’ll be talking about the layers of the earth, and making a layered terrarium, so snack could be either a yogurt parfait where kids layer together yogurt, fruit and granola, or a mud cup where they layer together chocolate pudding, bananas, crumbled graham crackers (or oreos), and a gummy worm.

4-Feb           CDL       Gravity & Magnets

Cereal with milk. Must be iron-fortified cereal if you also want to try this experiment… I haven’t tested it yet, so you’d need to test it first at home… but it sounds cool: http://www.dowlingmagnets.com/idea_center/activities_experiments/put_some_iron_in_your_food//

11-Feb         CDL       Planets & Astronauts

Trader Joe’s sells rocket shaped cheddar crackers. Horizon makes a graham cracker that’s cows jumping over moons. There’s astronaut ice cream. Or you could do some kind of food in a tube or a packet like the astronauts eat. (like an applesauce packet)  You could also make something that looks like a planet.. like make Jupiter pizzas: English muffins spread with tomato sauce and cheese and heated in toaster oven.

25-Feb         CDL       Stars & Constellations

Trader Joe’s has star shaped yogurt covered cookies. Campbell’s makes chicken and stars soup. Or you could bring star shaped cookie cutters and slices of American cheese to cut.

11-Mar        CDL       5 Senses / Observation skills

Several ideas in this post: https://inventorsoftomorrow.com/2016/1/05/taste-and-smell/

18-Mar        RW        Categorizing Animals / Describing

Animal crackers. Encourage them to sort them, count how many they have of each kind, describe them, etc.

25-Mar        CDL       Habitats

Make blue jello with Swedish fish floating in it? Bring animal crackers, give kids a paper plate labelled with place they might find the animals (desert for camel, jungle for monkey, etc.) When they get their crackers, they first sort them into where they belong, then eat them. Or get cheddar bunnies and goldfish to mix together, and kids have to sort into which lives in water, and which lives on land.

1-Apr           CDL       Adaptations to Environment

We’re doing an activity called Bird Beak Adaptations (described here). You could tie into that, by providing some snack with a utensil that makes it harder to eat… Can they eat spaghetti noodles with chopsticks? How about raisins? Or diced canned peaches? Or can they eat yogurt with a fork? Or drink yogurt with a straw? Or some similar challenge… Let them use tongs (like bird beaks) to serve the food.

15-Apr         RW        Eggs and Seeds

Seeds: Sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, peas, edamame / soybeans. (No nuts please!) Or fruit with obvious seeds (cherries, seeded watermelon, peach, etc.) Or hard-boiled eggs. (Note, not all kids like eggs, so bring another item in addition to this.) Could do scrambled eggs, if desired… we have a stove at Robinswood.

22-Apr         CDL       Flowers and Plants

American cheese slices, and flower shaped cookie cutters. Or could bring something flavored with lavender or rosewater, but many kids don’t like these flavors. Or bring any fruit or vegetable!

29-Apr         CDL       Bugs, Skeletons & Exo-Skeletons

You could do a dirt cup (chocolate pudding, crushed oreos, and gummy worms) or bugs on a log (use pretzels or celery as the log, spread on cream cheese  or sunflower butter, then sprinkle on chocolate chips or raisins or dried cranberries to be the bugs.) Or do the butterfly life cycle in pasta… orzo or acine di pepe for the egg, rotini or penne for the caterpillar, conchiglie (shell pasta) for the chrysalis, and bowtie for the butterfly. You could cook these all together in advance, then heat up portions as kids want them. (you’ll need to point out how they represent butterfly life cycle, otherwise kids won’t make the connection.)

6-May          CDL       Birds & Flight

There are recipes for “bird’s nests” made with chow mein noodles and butterscotch chips. Could make those, or use some other combination of items for bird’s nests: maybe pretzel sticks and sunflower seed butter? (no peanut butter, please). Or something egg shaped…

13-May        CDL       Fish / Sink & Float; Boats

Goldfish crackers! Or take bagel (or rice cake), spread on blue cream cheese (take whipped cream cheese and mix in a little blue gel food coloring), and put goldfish crackers in the “fish bowl.” Make your own goldfish crackers (I have a fish shaped cookie cutter. Here’s one recipe for the crackers… I haven’t tested it, so you’d want to test it in advance to see if it’s any good.)

20-May        RW        Robots & Machines

A bowl of snack mix… pretzel rods, cheerios, and Chex with a sign saying “nuts and bolts” and string cheese or licorice ropes with a sign saying “wires” and maybe some candy shapes for “buttons”.

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(RW means the class happens at Robinswood Park, CDL means it happens in our Creative Development lab on campus.

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Drinks: We always have water for drinks, so no need to bring juice or other beverages.

Could use for any theme:

For almost any theme, you could find cookie cutters that relate to the theme, and you could use them to make sugar cookies or biscuits or other recipes, or you could use them to cut American cheese slices, or bread, or many other things.

Also, if a parent doesn’t want to bring the theme related snack, then any of the following are always winning combinations: apples and cheese; graham crackers and bananas, pita and hummus, goldfish crackers and grapes, and so on.

We do have a nut free, peanut-free policy in our classrooms.

Tips for snack quantities: Snack is an optional activity in class, so not all kids will eat it. And of those who do, they often don’t eat much. So, when you’re planning quantities, if a box of something says it has “8 servings” in it, that’s plenty for 12 – 15 kids. Also, bring something you like to eat, because we’ll ask you to take home the leftovers. 🙂

Always bring two items (two kinds of food). If you only bring one item and a hungry child either doesn’t like that food or is not able to eat it due to allergies, then we have a hungry and unhappy child in class! Providing two types of food means that’s less likely to occur. So, for example, if you’re bringing cheese crackers, you could bring fruit to go with them. Or if you’re bringing cookies, maybe also provide yogurt tubes.

* Facilities and Supplies at Classrooms:

At CDL, we have for serving: disposable cups for water, and disposable plates (snack boats). We have spoons and forks. For preparing: we have mixing bowls, measuring cups, typical kitchen utensils, a microwave and a toaster oven. If you need something specific, ask if we have it, or just check yourself the week before.

At Robinswood, for serving, we have: re-useable cups, plates, and silverware. (Part of the snack parent’s job is to load these in the dishwasher at the end of class.) For preparing, we have mixing bowls, measuring cups, kitchen utensils, pots and pans, a microwave, stove, and oven. Again, if you need something specific, ask us.

Duplo Simple Machines Kit

I recently ordered the “Early Simple Machines III” kit from Lego Education, available here: https://education.lego.com/en-us/products/early-simple-machines-iii-set/9656

What’s in the kit:

There are 102 Duplos, including some unique specialty pieces, plus eight instruction cards with visual instruction for how to assemble 8 machines.

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There is also a teacher’s guide PDF that you can download (although the directions about how to do this weren’t clear to me when I received the box). The teacher’s guide has 8 lessons, each with 4 sections:

  • Connect: a short story featuring the characters Sara and Sam and introducing a problem they want to solve or activity they saw that they want to re-create (e.g. they saw children playing with spinning tops and want to build their own)
  • Construct: includes tips for how to build the project or trouble-shoot student creations to ensure they’re working correctly
  • Contemplate: guides children through brief experiments to do with the item they created, and compare test results. Includes worksheets to guide children. Questions are offered to extend children’s learning. (e.g. which top design spins faster? Will the boat move faster with a smaller sail or a bigger sail?)
  • Continue: ideas for further investigation (e.g. make your own pinwheel wings from paper, or design your own sail for the boat)

The set is rated as appropriate for ages 5 and up. I think 4 and up would do fine if the child has prior experience with Duplos and Legos, and with STEM concepts.

Note: at $149.95 this is not a cheap product, at least from my perspective as a non-profit class with a limited budget. If you have more funds available and want to buy multiple packs, there is some discount for buying in bulk: https://education.lego.com/en-us/products/early-simple-machines-classroom-packs/prod120002

Using the kit – options

8 sequential lessons. Whether in a classroom setting, or using these at home with your child, you can start with project #1 and work your way through to project #8, following the directions. You could use the teacher’s guide, walking kids through the story, constructing, testing with the worksheets, and continuing on with additional work. After completing the full curriculum, then the materials could be left out for free play and exploration.

Occasional classroom activity. For our inventors class, I plan to put these projects out one at a time, as they tie into the theme of the week. The project will be one of many activity stations in the room that the children can rotate to independently. I will put out the instructions card, then put all the materials they need for the project in one basket, and some extra Duplos nearby in case they want to tinker / add to the project after they’ve completed it. I will typically not use the activities and materials in the teachers’ guide, except occasionally the worksheets or the questions that extend learning.

The projects

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#1 is a pinwheel, which spins when you blow on it. We’ll add it to our Wind theme class.

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Project #2 involves building a top launcher, where you turn the crank, which spins the gears to wind up the top, then you release the top which spins and spins. This is actually a VERY cool Duplo set, and “worth the price of admission.” We’ll add it to our week where we talk about wheels and axles.

Note: although the instructions don’t tell you this, I think it would be fun to first have children build the top, and try spinning it with their hands to see how long it will spin, and then make the launcher and test again. Helps them really understand the power of the gears to increase spin.

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#3 is a seesaw. It’s fun because you can move the Duplo people back and forth to balance them, or you can try adding other Duplo loads and finding the balance point – it’s overall a helpful lever to add to our Levers class for fun exploration.

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#4 is a raft. After my 5 year old and I built it, I was curious whether it would float or not. We talked about what he knew about what sinks and what floats: It was broad and flat, and he knows that’s a shape that tends to float well. It had a solid bottom – he knows you want to avoid holes in the bottom of a boat that would cause it to take on water and sink. Legos are pretty light, he thought, but are they light enough? He couldn’t decide if it would float or not. I predicted it would. His dad predicted it wouldn’t – he didn’t think it could capture enough air underneath it to float. It turns out it could, and it did float. So, we decided ten and there that this project will be saved till our Sink and Float class, where we’ll ask our students to make the same assessments and predictions.

Ironically, after we did all this, we read the teacher’s guide. 🙂  Turns out the “contemplate” experiment has you float the boat on water, and then blow into the sail to see how fast it will travel with a small sail or a large one.

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#5 is a car and a launcher

The Connect story in the teacher’s guide is that Sam and Sara love racing their car down the hill, but hate the hard work of pushing it back up the hill again. In the Construct part of the teacher’s guide, you build the car, two launchers, and the ramp (by propping a board on a stack of books or blocks.) In the Contemplate section, you test whether the small launcher or the big launcher is better at getting the car back up the ramp. The Continue section is about competing for accuracy… who can launch the car so it reaches a target but doesn’t overshoot it. We will use this in our Cars week, which follows the wheels and axles unit. We will likely include the Connect story in class, because it illustrates nicely how a simple machine reduces the human work required.

This is a cool project, and I worry a little that having only one car in the classroom may lead to some squabbles that day over who gets to play with it…

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#6 is a measuring car. As it drives forward, the pointer turns, measuring (non-standard) units travelled. Students are asked to predict how far the car will travel depending on how steep the ramp is. This car could be used in a class with a Measurement theme, but we won’t be doing that theme this year, as we found that it was over the heads of our 3 – 4 year olds. It could also fit in Contraptions, which is late in our Engineering / Simple Machines unit. I’m going to use it in the Cars week, to reduce the predicted squabbles I mentioned above…

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#7 is a hockey playing robot. You turn a gear on his back, and he swings his stick at a block. We’ll add him to our Robot week.

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#8 is a goofy dog whose eyes spin. We’ll add him to our Contraptions week, which is late in our Engineering / Simple Machines unit. I’ll have just his materials out during Discovery time at the beginning of class, but in tinkering time, I’ll probably make lots more of the supplies from this Simple Machines kit out so children can incorporate them into contraptions.

Note: This is called a Simple Machines kit, so I was expecting a little closer tie-in to the concept of the 6 Simple Machines. Perhaps one project to illustrate each machine, then a couple that blend them together. The seesaw does this for the lever, and several of them are about wheels and axles. Those cars are tested on an inclined plane, but the curriculum doesn’t talk about this as a simple machine idea. I’m not sure what Duplo project would tie into screws or wedges, so am not surprised those aren’t represented, but I would have expected something including a pulley. This isn’t a complaint, per se. I really like the projects that they did include, but want to be sure that others are aware of what they are / aren’t getting.

Overall, although this is a pricey purchase for us, I look forward to incorporating these projects in our Inventors Lab over the course of the year. A lot of what we do in the class is very process oriented, without clear instructions for how the activity SHOULD be done. Adding these instruction-based projects into the mix helps to teach a different kind of skill to the kids. (And, of course, we’ll always have lots of process-based building activities available in all classes.)