Lee's Summit Journal

A bit of sugar provides the STEAM to let young scientists shine in Lee’s Summit

During a Lee’s Summit Library STEAM program Monday afternoon, Alyssa Toliver, of Raymore, built toothpick and candy towers with her children, Jenna, 3, and Daxton, 6.
During a Lee’s Summit Library STEAM program Monday afternoon, Alyssa Toliver, of Raymore, built toothpick and candy towers with her children, Jenna, 3, and Daxton, 6. Special to the Journal

At a construction site, you don’t have to worry about workers nibbling on the building materials.

That changes when your supplies are spice drops and marshmallows, and your workers are pint-sized.

A group of kids from Lee’s Summit, Cass County and other surrounding areas gathered at the Lee’s Summit branch of the Mid-Continent Library on July 22 to test their building skills.

The Kid STEAM program aimed to give preschool-aged kids their first taste of the scientific method. Literary associate Jodanna Bitner developed the program for a Daisy Girl Scout troop she leads.

The concept of the toothpick program is that the kids learn about architecture, then guess which material would make the sturdiest and tallest structure when connecting toothpicks: marshmallows, spice drops, gummy bears or jelly beans. Bitner said the staff at the library was so intrigued by the idea that they started making guesses, too.

“I was trying to think of an architectural program for my Girl Scouts. It went over so well with the girls that I thought it would be a great program to include here as well,” said Bitner of her Daisy troop. “Hands-on programs like this are fun and educational.”

Bitner’s assistant, Ryan Rankin, believes there’s an added benefit.

“These programs get parents involved,” he said. “They can learn and have fun with their kids.”

Jenna Toliver, 3, was fully focused on building a tall, sturdy tower from marshmallows and toothpicks during Monday’s STEAM program at the Lee’s Summit Library. Anne Marie Hunter Special to the Journal

Alyssa Toliver, of Raymore, and her children, Daxton, 6, and Jenna, 3, attended Monday’s program as a family outing.

“We home-school our kids and these programs are great for home-schoolers,” she said. “They make STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) topics applicable to the real world.”

What the kids learned, Bitner said, was that spice drops overall make the best building blocks.

“They all think jelly beans are going to be an utter failure,” Bitner said before the event.

Bitner said leaders have clever ways to deter the kids from eating the building tools.

“Some of our librarians will joke around that they put their foot in the food, and you don’t know which (candy) our foot touched. It makes the kids hesitant, because they’re not sure if we’re joking,” she said.

Joking aside, the serious part of the program is teaching critical thinking skills. For preschoolers, Bitner said, that means thinking like a scientist.

“If you want to know about something, start with a question and write out what you want to happen, then say, ‘Well what do I think will happen?’ Then see what will happen.”

It’s not just preschoolers who come to programs like this. Bitner said she’ll often have kids ages 8 to 10 come and participate — and they still learn new skills.

“I think kids in general tend to love to build, and they have such a great imagination that not only do they build towers, but they try building pyramids,” she said. “They like to see what they can build with that’s going to be better.”

She hopes that having this experience at the library will encourage kids to come back.

“Not only can learning be fun, but the library can be fun as well,” Bitner said. “It’s great if we can throw in some educational aspects as well.”

Anne Marie Hunter contributed to this story.