Five engineering challenges for kids – with wooden clothespins, binder clips, and craft sticks! It’s a simple STEM activity that kids of all ages will love.
Move over, expensive building sets! These simple materials were a huge hit with my boys. The first time we got them out, Owen (almost 7) spent well over an hour busily creating all kinds of designs. And that’s saying something, because out of all of our kids he has the shortest attention span by far.
Kids will have a blast just exploring with these materials, and it’s a great activity for hand-eye coordination. After they have had a chance to experiment with building, expand the activity with these fun engineering challenges!
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We used a train table board as a building surface.
Challenge #1: Build a structure that can support the most possible weight.
For this one, you could either challenge kids to build a true bridge, or just a structure that supports weight.
Two clothespins with a craft stick between them make great supports for a structure.
We couldn’t believe how much weight this could hold! We didn’t keep going to find the capacity on this one, but Gresham built another one that held many, many chapter books (about 25!) before collapsing!
Then we tried building bridges. Gresham came up with this design.
Then he tested the strength of his design with books.
It held 8 books and then collapsed, which was not too bad!
Then we tried a bridge with triangles in the design (since I knew that triangles are a stronger shape).
As expected, this one held a lot more weight. It collapsed after 13 books.
Challenge #2: Build the tallest structure.
Colored craft sticks make this whole activity a work of art as well as design!
This was Owen’s tallest structure that he built completely himself (he’s almost 7).
And Aidan’s (age 12.5). As you can see, this is an activity that works well for a wide range of ages.
Challenge #3: Build the tallest structure with the fewest clothespins.
It doesn’t seem like it would be possible, but we were able to build structures with only two clothespins at the bottom!
Challenge #4: What can you build with triangles?
This one was my favorite. Triangles lend themselves to really neat designs.
Owen started this one, and I made it into a hexagon. I never would have thought to balance the triangles on the binder clips the way he did, but it worked very well!
Here is Aidan’s triangle design.
Challenge #5: Build a domino chain.
Gresham discovered that he could make “dominoes” out of craft sticks and clothespins!
Then we came up with several designs that didn’t really fit any particular challenge. The kids just had a great time exploring!
Who knew clothespins could be so much fun?
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I am storing our “building set” in a plastic shoebox. We have about 36 binder clips, 150 craft sticks, and about 50 clothespins. That has been plenty for three kids building at one time. If you have a classroom of kids, you might want to get more.
Also, be sure to check out our Engineering Challenges with Craft Sticks, Cups, and Wooden Cubes!