Looking for STEM projects and challenges for kids? Building and engineering projects are valuable for developing thinking skills and encouraging the ability to design and create.
The tough part, though, is that teachers often have to purchase the materials at their own expense. At home, we don’t need to supply enough materials for a class, but with five kids to feed, house, and educate we can’t constantly be buying special materials either. Here’s a collection of STEM engineering challenges that are fun and engaging, and that also make use of recycled or inexpensive materials.
ENGINEERING WITH PAPER
Let’s start with projects that rely on a simple and readily available material – paper!
Which paper column can support the most weight? from Creekside Learning. The result was not what I expected!
Build a Newspaper Fort – This is amazing! And all you need is newspapers and tape. Granted, newspapers are harder to come by than they used to be, but maybe you can find a friend or a dentist office that will save some for you!
Build a Conveyor Belt from Pink Stripey Socks. Use a milk carton and paper, and a few other simple materials!
Make some Paper Building Blocks from Babble Dabble Do. So simple and colorful.
Paper Airplane Challenge from Kids Activities Blog. Which plane can carry the most cargo?
BUILDING WITH SIMPLE MATERIALS
This one is our most popular STEM post: 4 Engineering Challenges with Craft Sticks, Cups, and Cubes. I enjoyed this as much as the kids, and it works for all ages. It’s amazing what kids can construct with these simple materials, and they’ll be learning a ton about balance and center of gravity.
If you like that one, also try 5 Engineering Challenges with Clothespins, Craft Sticks, and Binder Clips. These materials make an awesome building kit! We have ours stored in a plastic shoebox.
Turn a Large Cardboard Box into an EPIC Marble Run – This is seriously awesome.
Make a marble run on a smaller scale – Shoebox Marble Run. Shoe boxes, craft stick, and hot glue – that’s it! Again, you’ll be amazed what you can create. The post has lots of inspiration.
Build a Bridge out of Straws and Straight Pins. Great classroom challenge. The straight pins work well for holding the straws together.
How strong is spaghetti? Test how much weight this material will hold! This is an impressive STEM challenge!
Build a Marble Run with Play Dough – YES, play dough! Grab a cookie sheet and try this fun challenge!
Collect some sticks and try building a raft that floats! From Kids Craft Room.
Build a Straw Roller Coaster for a ping pong ball to roll down! Drinking straws and hot glue, and that’s it. Use a low temp gun and kids can make this themselves.
Build a Labyrinth Game with a cardboard box and craft sticks. The finished game is seriously addicting!
Create a Hexbug Maze with Straws from Buggy and Buddy. This is a great cooperative project for groups of kids.
It’s also fun to build a Hexbug Maze with Cardboard and Craft Sticks.
EXPLORE FORCE AND MOTION – CATAPULTS AND MORE!
Make Working Gears with Popsicle Sticks – such a fun mechanical project.
Build a Popsicle Stick Catapult. You probably have all the supplies on hand to make this fun catapult!
Balloon Pinwheel – This is a great way to demonstrate Newton’s third law of motion!
Make a Ping Pong Ball Launcher with a plastic bottle. Fun toy.
Create an Epic Bottle Rocket out of a 2 liter soda bottle. It flew higher than our house!
Build a Tissue Box Catapult and then launch small Lego bricks or ping pong balls or marshmallows.
Use marbles and a ruler to explore the transfer of energy. A favorite science experiment.
I think my kids would tinker with these Magnetic Sculptures all day long! What a great idea from Babble Dabble Do.
Use magnets to create a Magic Spinning Pen.
Make a Magnet Powered Car from Science Kiddo. This is a fun idea!
Defy Gravity with Magnets from Buggy and Buddy! You can probably set this up with things you have on hand.
Lee Orlian Jan 25, 2017
Thank you for sharing Sarah. I have two daughters who are now starting to be getting more and more interested in STEM activities. We had a lot of fun with the Balloon Pinwheel! I'm sure that with your fantastic selection will keep them on their toes!
mavenlink login Feb 8, 2017
Sound fantastic, my kids would crazy for it
Rebecca at STEM Guide May 9, 2019
What a great list of activities! Always looking for easy STEM projects with recycled materials. I send home a list of all the recycled materials that we need in the classroom to all the parents and that's been so helpful!
Clint Aug 1, 2019
That's a great collection of activities there. Well done
lauren Aug 22, 2019
Darnita Feb 17, 2020
Thanks for sharing. Such great ideas for afterschool and weekend activities.
TechyKids Canada Mar 31, 2021
These are some really great ideas and so creative. I am sure it would help many to engage their kids in stem activities. Thanks for sharing, it's very helful!
Lindsey Jan 22, 2022
Wow! I run an after school STEM club for ages 7-11 in the UK and these activities are absolutely perfect for us to use! Thanks so much Sarah.
Vijaya Yadama Jul 24, 2022
These are fantastic ideas, thanks for posting.
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