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What is your Marshmallow test? A Lesson on Self-Control

April 16, 2018


The first and best victory is to conquer self ~ Plato



The first "Marshmallow Test" was a study conducted by Walter Mischel and Ebbe B. Ebbesen at Stanford University in 1960.  Since that time, longitudinal studies have been done to measure how well these particular subjects did in school and life.  Some research has suggested that the students who were able to delay gratification had higher SAT scores and were reported by their parents up to 10 years later to be more "competent" than their peers in a number of areas.  Brain scan research tells us that the part of the brain that "lights up" during gratification delay is in the prefrontal cortex region where executive functioning, awareness of consequences and high level decision making is focused (2011), research article link here. 


For my kinder and 1st grade lesson, I brought in a bag of mini marshmallows and asked a simple question:  How much control do you have?  So many cute answers as they eyed my bag of yummy marshmallows.  So I explained,  I'm going to give you one marshmallow each and then we are going to read a book and do an activity and then if you still have your one marshmallow intact, I will give you a second one and you can eat them both.  OH!  So exciting, they assured me, "we can do it Ms. Bird!" So, I happily handed out a mini marshmallow to all.  I did share a few words of learned knowledge as my day went on  such as, if you lick the marshmallow, it will dissolve---if you put it in your nose, it will get wet and dissolve-- if you lick your fingers, it will dissolve---if you rub it on your teacher's carpet, it might not readily dissolve, but it sure does make your teacher upset and it may result in a fractured marshmallow at the end of the activity....smiles and laughter!



I then read a cute book called Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein.  In this story little chicken really wants to hear a bedtime story and gets reminder from Papa to try not to interrupt. But chicken can’t help herself! She jumps into the story to save its characters from doing some dangerous or silly thing by shouting out the ending to familiar fairy tales.  Laughter and fun to read with the children as they watch and listen as chicken's ability to maintain self control is quite limited!


At the end of the story we discuss self-control and then I ask everyone to hold up their marshmallow if they still have it.  Nearly all the time, the children proudly displayed their self-control by holding it up.  I told them I was so proud and we discussed what some of their strategies were as they tried NOT to eat the marshmallow.  Here are some of their responses: 


"Just look away"

"Pretend it's not there"

"Don't smell it"

"Focus on the story, not the marshmallow"



I then pulled up the video of students their age participating in the marshmallow test.  Click here or to right to watch.  They laughed again as they watched the children's body language as they struggled with self-control.  We finished by talking about what those children did to help them maintain control.  After it was all said and done, we did a final check in and the second marshmallow was handed out.  You would have thought that Ms. Bird had provided a feast!  The savoring of those little marshmallow guys was hilarious.  



Pre-K lesson video below:

















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