Here’s a simple open-ended building activity for kids of all ages – Colored craft sticks, wooden cubes, and small plastic cups! Simple materials, and yet we have been having a blast building all kinds of amazing structures with them.
This project is the second project in our Summer STEAM Camp series! This week, we are exploring with the sense of touch.
Here are the materials we used for this project: (Amazon affiliate links)
- Colored Jumbo Craft Sticks
- Wooden Cubes – I used 3/4 inch cubes from Hobby Lobby. The best option on Amazon in terms of reviews and price seems to be these 1 inch wooden cubes.
- Plastic Cups – 3 oz. size
Who knew that craft sticks, cubes, and cups could be so interesting? Extend the play and learning with these fun engineering challenges.
Challenge #1: Build a structure with one cube as the base. Yes, just one cube!
When I announced this one, the boys told me it would be impossible. So I showed them this construction which I had already built:
So then Owen came up with this:
And Gresham built this:
As long as you add pieces on both sides of your structure simultaneously, you can build some amazing designs!
Challenge #2: Using any size base, build the tallest possible structure.
Stacking craft sticks on top of plastic cups allows you to build a much more vertical structure than what you can make with cups alone.
Challenge #3: Feats of Balance. Make something stick out in an impressive way!
This structure that Aidan built seemed to defy gravity! Those cubes are really lightweight, and it was hard to believe that they could counterbalance the craft sticks and cups sticking out like that. But add enough of them…
How many cups can it hold?
And one more…
Dad made this one:
Challenge #4: What can you build with just one cup as the base?
More than you might think!
Bonus Challenge: Build a chain reaction!
Remove the first cup, and the sticks fall down in a chain! See how to make it here: Simple Popsicle Stick Chain Reactions
Like these engineering challenges? Here are more with simple materials: 5 Engineering Challenges with Clothespins, Binder Clips, and Craft Sticks
Be sure to stop by the rest of the posts in the Summer STEAM Camp series!
Easy and Colorful Magnetic Sculpture – Pink Stripey Socks
Creative Pool Noodle STEAM Fun – One Time Through
String and Bead Puzzle – What Do We Do All Day?
Learning About Slugs – Why Do Slugs Have Slime? – Lemon Lime Adventures
Leslie Jun 11, 2015
This looks amazingly fun. :) Pinned and will probably use this as a Sunday School activity!
Olawale RAHEEM Apr 25, 2018
Really great resources! Good for parents and schools. It is a huge way to engage learners that are Kinesthetic and help balance childhood education. the materials are cost and nature friendly. Thank you so much for sharing.
Sue Lively Jun 12, 2015
My 3 year old saw these pictures and is so EXCITED to try this! He loves building stuff - can't wait to gather up our materials!
Ana Jun 13, 2015
I love these challenges!!!!! The one cube base challenge is brilliant!
usha Jun 16, 2015
Thanks so much for sharing this activity. Just had one quick question. How many sticks, cups and cubes did you use to build the tallest possible structure (challenge #2). Appreciate your help. Thanks in advance.
Erika Mar 7, 2016
I am the STEM teacher for a Pre-K - 5th grade school. I love your activities. I want to do this one, but will need to make sets so that I can easily pass them out. How many sticks/cubes/cups did you make for each set?
Thanks for all your great ideas!!
Tracy Jun 19, 2015
Sarah! I love this engineering challenge! What a great way to keep the kiddos entertained and thinking this summer! We'll definitely try this one! Tracy
Chris Jun 23, 2015
I simply love love love these challenges!!! I think they will definitely keep kids engaged and learning. I do have a few questions; however, since I'm teaching a STEM program for rising 8th grades this summer. What was the biggest takeaway(s) you were trying to get your kids to learn in these challenges? Did you have them work in groups? How long did they have for each challenge? How did you divide the responsibilities between each person? Sorry for all the questions, and thank you in advance for your response. Keep up the great work. Also if there's a website you can direct me to that will answer some of these questions that would be great as well. Thanks again.
Sarah Jun 23, 2015
Well, our set up was pretty informal. It was just my 11, 8, and 6 year old's building, so they each did their own thing. No groups and no division of responsibility, etc. Since my kids are younger than the ones that you are teaching, my goals were just to explore balance (adding equal weight to both sides of the structure, etc.), to explore design - creating patterns with colors and just exploring interesting designs, and to build coordination.
Corey Rosen Schwartz Jul 23, 2015
I love these challenges so much! I have been looking for a fun building activity to go with my new book WHAT ABOUT MOOSE? I think this is perfect! And thank you so much for including the links ot purchase the materials. i have already ordered them all!
Lza Oct 20, 2015
Silly question, but where did you get those cubes? Those could be handy for many activities. Thanks.
Sarah Oct 22, 2015
We got them at Hobby Lobby, but I saw them the other day at Michael's too. Any good craft store should have them! They really are quite useful!
Keli Feb 29, 2016
I've seen them at the dollar store by my house, as well as lots of sizes of popsicle sticks. So make sure to check that out too and could save a few $$!
LeAnn Taylor Mar 31, 2016
How many bags of the blocks did you use? Unfortunately, the store I went to the other day only had 1 bag. I definitely want more but wasn't sure how many bags is ideal. This looks like so much fun - I can't wait to try it myself! Thanks for sharing.
Sonia Jun 2, 2017
I would only add that another source for the wooden cubes is Craftparts.com - a great resource for wooden objects of all sorts of shapes and sizes!
Here is a link for 1" wooden cubes - http://www.craftparts.com/square-block-cubes-p-2628.html
BreAnna | Crafty Coin Nov 10, 2015
Oh my gosh! Love these ideas. I don't have kids yet, but do tons of babysitting. These challenges would be great with the kids!
Kathy Pitts Oct 15, 2016
I have a daughter named Gresham and I was surprised to see you have a Gresham too! What is your Gresham's namesake? We got the idea from Joy Gresham, who married C. S. Lewis.
Sarah Oct 20, 2016
That's great! We got the idea from the same place. Well, from Douglas Gresham (her son). Also, I had heard someone calling their son "Gresham" in Toys R Us and liked the name!
Meredith Dec 1, 2016
I can't wait for the day that my boys WANT to build things! (I've got toddlers) These are great ideas; I'm so glad you shared!
Faye Feb 18, 2017
Wow! I work at a library and we just finished completing these challenges for an Evil Genius Club program. The kids LOVED it! They were totally engaged. You could almost see the wheels turning inside their heads trying to figure out what to place where. Thanks for the awesome idea! I'll definitely be checking out more of your site!
Carol Aug 29, 2017
Hi, I love these ideas and have bought the components but wanted to print out and laminate the challenges. I've tried all sorts of things including copying all the text and pictures into word but I can't get them to print in any way that doesn't mean the pictures are over several pages. Is there any way you can come up with a print friendly version please? Thank you
amit kaur Feb 5, 2018
Thanks for sharing this activity.. I have dominoes and jenga blocks do you think they can work instead of the cubes.
Sarah Feb 7, 2018
Yes, I bet that would work!
Lisa Jorgensen Feb 15, 2018
Thank you for this idea! I would love to share this with my readers in a roundup post about STEM activities. I will give all the credit and links back to you. Let me know if you have a problem with that.
H Apr 9, 2019
The video playing is very distracting. Why isn't there an option to close it?? I like this website , but that;s enough for me to leave this site and find similar information elsewhere.
Kate Jun 27, 2021
These look so great - I LOVE the printable cards, thank you!! We just had a church camp and the 10-15 year old boys went crazy for these building challenges so I can't wait to bring in this new batch. :) You are always coming up with great stuff, Sarah!!
Jane Feb 2, 2023
We loved these challenges. Simple materials and being open ended makes them so engaging. Would love more of these types of engineering challenges.
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