6 at-home STEM design challenges kids love

Winter break is upon us, and over the long holiday, kids are bound to get cabin fever sitting at home. Since the cold weather might make it difficult to go outside, these hands-on design challenges are a great option for getting active and turning the gears in their brains, at home!

These 6 design challenges present learners with a problem to solve using simple materials, encouraging creative thinking, teamwork, and important STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) skills. Plus, they’re engaging and fun, making them a hit with kids of all ages! Read on to see our list of design challenges for grades Pre-K to 8th.

Grades Pre-K – 1st

1. Build a tower out of cups

Design thinking is the process of creating a product from start to finish, and you can teach your child design thinking strategies with this straightforward activity. All you need are some paper cups! Your little learner will enjoy stacking the cups to create a tower, and they’ll need to use their critical thinking skills to figure out how to make the tower taller without the cups tumbling down.

Would a wider base help stabilize the structure? What about adjusting the space between the cups? It’s up to them to customize their invention through trial and error!

2. Make a catapult

Kids love to send things flying through the air, and this homemade catapult challenge lets them do just that! This open-ended activity encourages kids to think critically about how to best build the mechanism, emphasizing that there is more than one way to approach the challenge. Once their prototype is built, then comes the fun part – it’s time to test it out! Afterwards, learners can go back to the drawing board several times to perfect their invention.

Grades 2nd – 4th

3. Engineer gumdrop structures

Budding architects can stick toothpicks together to build structures with this exciting activity. Gumdrops are sweet treats that double as colorful glue for their structures. Alternatively, they can use marshmallows, clay, or play dough. This challenge will guide your child through the brainstorming and prototyping stages of the design process to help them tweak their structure until it’s a success!

4. Design a parachute

Kids love this design thinking challenge! In this activity, they will use household items to create a parachute for a small toy. Their goal is to keep the toy in the air for as long as possible. By using creative tools like dental floss, plastic bags, and tissues, kids will try to combat gravity and keep their little friend flying through the air!

Grades 5th – 8th

5. Assemble a Rube Goldberg machine

A Rube Goldberg (or chain reaction) machine is a contraption that uses multiple steps to complete a simple task. For the purposes of this activity, kids will come up with their own challenge for their machine.

This might include:

  • Popping a balloon
  • Turning on or off a light switch
  • Turning off an alarm clock
  • Squeezing toothpaste on a toothbrush
  • Turning on a faucet
  • Opening a phone app

Older learners will get hands-on experience with the principles of physics and engineering with this experiment. They will use at-home supplies like dominoes, marbles, popsicle sticks, and legos to construct their unique machine.

6. Use chemistry to inflate a balloon

We all know you can make an exploding volcano using baking soda and vinegar, but how about using those same ingredients to inflate a balloon? Change up your traditional science experiments with this chemistry design challenge, which encourages kids to mix up concoctions using the following ingredients:

  • Vinegar
  • Sugar
  • Baking soda
  • Salt
  • Mentos
  • Lemon juice
  • Soda
  • Any other household items/liquids

Kids will have fun putting together different combinations until they find one that works best!

For more STEM activities from Education.com, visit our Learning Library

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