Right after the holidays, I had a lot of large pieces of styrofoam that was used to pack some of our Christmas gifts. Like, nice, solid blocks of styrofoam. Now, like any good preschool teacher, you don’t just THROW that kind of stuff away!
So we decided to use these sturdy styrofoam blocks as the base to make some bead mazes, using pipe cleaners and large beads. I put the materials out and described to the children that they can create their own bead mazes (similar to the kind you can buy at a store). I demonstrated how to stick one end of the pipe cleaner into the styrofoam block and then string beads. Then, I sat back and watched the building begin!
I had 2 classes do this activity … our 3 year old class and a 4 year old class. With the 3 year olds, they each had their own block of stryofoam to work with. This is a great fine motor workout for the younger preschoolers – as some needed assistance with pushing the pipe cleaner into the styrofoam. In some cases, it was helpful to make the hole for them first, and then allow them to put the pipe cleaner into the hole. This was a good independent activity for them, letting them work at their own pace to push in the pipe cleaners and string the beads. Some made elaborate mazes, some just strung a few beads and were finished.
And some children loaded up their pipe cleaners with as many beads as possible. In doing so, they learned that they were not be able to “slide” their beads, and in some cases, this was too heavy for the pipe cleaner. This was an opportunity to problem solve how to fix their maze. The styrofoam allows for the children to build their maze, but easily move the pipe cleaners if they want to change something.
With the 4 year old class, I had them work in pairs. For the older preschoolers, the challenge came not in stringing the beads, but in figuring out how to work together to build their maze. They looped their pipe cleaners over and under, and made some really cool mazes!
This is a great activity to leave setup in a tactile table or bin … allowing children to create, play, take apart and create again!