Summer is the perfect time for kids to build their own boats out of recycled materials! This is a fun STEM challenge that also leads to all kinds of pretend play. Perfect for a summer afternoon!

Float your boats in a kiddie pool/paddling pool in the yard, or float them in a pond or creek. The latter is not a great option here in Texas because our creeks and ponds are pretty gross. Murky water, algae, snakes… yeah, we’ll stick to our kiddie pool!

This post was updated in May 2023.

I have been saving recycle bin items for a while for the kids to use to make boats, and they were all very enthusiastic when I pulled out this pile!  

Milk jugs and orange juice cartons work well because they are water proof. However, you can also let kids experiment by offering cardboard egg cartons, etc. Preschoolers will enjoy exploring different materials and discovering what makes a good boat… and what doesn’t!

Recommended Supplies:

  • Egg cartons
  • Orange juice/almond milk cartons
  • Milk cartons
  • Any other plastic containers from the recycling bin
  • Straws
  • Popsicle sticks
  • Felt
  • Duct tape

Make a Straw Raft

A straw raft is simple to build and floats well!

First, cut several straws to the same length. Line them up on the table. Then apply hot glue to one side of a popsicle stick. Use the popsicle stick to connect the straws.

I added two straws (the green ones) under the raft to help it float a little higher in the water.

The mast is a popsicle stick that I glued between the straws. Then I added a felt sail.

Plastic Container Boat

My 9 year old chose to make a boat out of a Cool Whip container. She chose to use a paper cup as a sail, and it turned out so cute!

Duct tape is so useful when making boats because it’s water proof.

Orange Juice Carton Boat

This boat is my favorite! Cut an orange juice carton in half lengthwise. This is definitely an adult job! We used a utility knife.

We have tried painting on orange juice cartons in the past, and it definitely did not work for us. Acrylic paint does not cover well on the waxy surface, and it scratches off easily. So again, duct tape for the win!

The sail is plastic cut from a lunchmeat container.

Playmobil figures were perfect to ride in our boats. Any plastic figures or toy animals will be fine, though, as long they aren’t too heavy.

Kids will enjoy testing their boats to see how much weight they can add as cargo before the boat sinks!

The straw raft held the least amount of weight for us. We had a little plastic Bingo figure (from the Bluey TV show) riding on it, but it sank. So Janie went and found a LEGO passenger instead!

More Ideas for Experimenting with Boats:

  • Try making waves in the pool and see what happens to the boats!
  • If it’s a windy day, observe how the wind affects the boats. We had enough wind to really make our boats travel across the pool! Experiment with the position of the sails.

Need more summer STEM activities?

Here’s a collection of 30+ Fun Summer Science Experiments! Make a sand volcano, a working water fountain, a bottle rocket, and so much more!


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  1. Emma Jun 24, 2013

    Fantastic idea. I love your idea for older children, we will definitely try that one if you don't mind?

    Thanks for linking up.


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