• J Flewelling

Turkey STEAM Challenge

Today is the day before Thanksgiving. I wanted to do something to celebrate as a family. Not that the day before Thanksgiving is worth celebrating, but my family has gotten stuck in this routine that involves coming home from school, scarfing down dinners, heading out to activities, then rendezvousing at home to crash in bed and do it all again tomorrow. All too often if we don't control the calendar, the calendar controls us. We needed a break from this routine. And that's why I wanted to do something together to celebrate as a family.

While I was at Space Camp this past summer, they introduced us to a type of activity called an engineering challenge. We had to design or make something to overcome some sort of challenge. They had a bank of supplies for us to use, however every supply you took cost 'credits'. I thought, "Why not do a challenge with my family?" So, this is what followed.

Without telling the family what we were doing, I herded them all into the van and drove them to one of the local dollar stores where everything actually costs a dollar or less. This was crucial. After parking the van, I told everyone that I was going to give them each $5 and that they had to buy 4 items with that money. (It couldn't be 5 items because they had to include taxes!) They, of course, immediately asked what we would be doing with the items. I told them I was willing to tell them individually ahead of time, but it would cost them a $1. Now they were stuck knowing there was a challenge, but not knowing if they really needed 4 items! Could they get away with three?

I was really surprised! All of them chose to hear the challenge even though it would limit their number of items to three. Interestingly enough, the kids all demanded that since I already knew what the challenge was, I had to limit my purchases to $4 too! After collecting a dollar from everyone, I gave them the challenge. They would have to use the items to make a place setting that looked like a turkey for our Thanksgiving meal. Within seconds, everyone had bolted out of the van and into the store.

It was a blast meeting up with each other in the aisles. You could see each of our personalities as we went through the store. One of my daughters didn't want anyone to see the items that she had, so she picked up a basket and covered the items with her coat. Another daughter caught me in about every aisle asking what I thought about this item or that item. I didn't even see my third daughter until close to the end when she came up and said, "What do you think I could use for a hat?" My wife, excitedly picked up her items smiling the whole time. I found the basis for my turkey, but then asked others for their opinions on certain decorations. You could see the wheels turning in all our minds as to what three items we could put together that would still resemble a turkey.

After paying and returning to the van, we had to cover some other ground rules. We have a fairly large amount of craft supplies at home: hot glue, felt, yarn, you name it. I wanted us as a family to determine how "available" those supplies were. After a short discussion, everyone unanimously agreed that only the googly eyes could be used for "decoration." Everything else could only be used to put things together: glue, hot glue, pipe cleaners, string, etc.

Soon we were sitting around the table piecing together our turkeys, sharing the hot glue gun, laughing and admiring each other's creativity and ingenuity. Not only were we practicing critical thinking, problem solving, and creativity in a fun and engaging way, but we were doing it together as a family!

Altogether, we spent maybe 30 minutes at the dollar store and 60 minutes making the turkeys. It cost a total of $20; all five of us used $4 each, and the kids got to keep the change as a bonus. The money cost less than taking everyone to the movies, and we spent about a movie's worth of time bonding as a family!

The kids have already told me they want to do this again at Christmas!

Problem Solving + Creativity + Family Time = Win

Happy Thanksgiving!

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