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The marshmallow experiment

Is a marshmallow in your hand worth two in the future?
Plan a session with this activity

You will need

  • Marshmallows or chosen snack

Activity summary 

This activity is a great way of explaining the difference between getting something now or saving it for later. It gives people the chance to choose whether to eat or save a snack, then reflect on why they made their decision. 

Before you begin

  • Have enough marshmallows - or any treats - for everyone to have two

Safety checklist

Use the Safety checklist to help you plan and risk assess your activity. Additional coronavirus-related controls to think about may include:

  • Make sure that everyone knows the plan for dropping young people off (and picking them up again).
  • Set up a hand washing station that you can use throughout the session.
  • Stay socially distanced when moving around the space and when talking to other people.
  • Consider how to safely hand out the marshmallows (or other items). You could put them into cups or bowls before the session and ask group members to collect them one at a time, for example.

Play the marshmallow game

  1. The person leading the activity should give everyone a marshmallow.
  1. The person leading the activity should explain that people can either eat their marshmallow now, or wait until the end of the session. If they wait until the end of the session, they’ll get a second marshmallow. 
  2. Everyone should decide whether they want to eat their marshmallow now, or wait until later to get a second marshmallow.
  1. The person leading the activity should ask someone why they made their choice. Anyone who agrees with that reason should move to be nearer that person.
  1. The person leading the activity should keep asking different people questions. Everyone should keep moving to stand near the people they agree with until there are no more new opinions.
  2. Everyone should carry on with the rest of the session.
  1. At the end of the session, the person leading the activity should give a second marshmallow to the people who chose to wait.
  2. Everyone should repeat steps four and five.

Reflection

This activity was written to explore the way we think and feel about saving things compared to spending (or eating, or using) them now.

Take some time to think and chat about when else people have had to choose between having something now or saving it for later. What did they decide to do? How did they feel at the time? Would they do something different now? What helped them make their decision?

Deciding whether to save something can be tricky, and it can make people feel lots of different feelings. There are no right or wrong answers. Thinking about the way it makes you feel can help you be more comfortable and confident making decisions in the future.

This activity also makes use of The movement map to stop and think throughout the activity. For more quick reflections, take a look at our reflective toolkit. 

Safety

All activities must be safely managed. Use the safety checklist to help you plan and risk assess your activity. Do a risk assessment and take appropriate steps to reduce risk. Always get approval for the activity and have suitable supervision and an InTouch process.