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.

 5 Engineering Challenges with Clothespins, Binder Clips, and Craft Sticks

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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Five Engineering Challenges with Clothespins, Binder Clips, and Craft Sticks

Materials Used:

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.

Five Engineering Challenges with Clothespins, Binder Clips, and Craft Sticks

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!

Five Engineering Challenges with Clothespins, Binder Clips, and Craft Sticks

Then we tried building bridges.  Gresham came up with this design.

Five Engineering Challenges with Clothespins, Binder Clips, and Craft Sticks

Then he tested the strength of his design with books.

Five Engineering Challenges with Clothespins, Craft Sticks, and Binder Clips

It held 8 books and then collapsed, which was not too bad!

Five Engineering Challenges with Clothespins, Binder Clips, and Craft Sticks

Then we tried a bridge with triangles in the design (since I knew that triangles are a stronger shape).

Five Engineering Challenges with Clothespins, Binder Clips, and Craft Sticks

As expected, this one held a lot more weight.  It collapsed after 13 books.

Five Engineering Challenges

Challenge #2:  Build the tallest structure.

Colored craft sticks make this whole activity a work of art as well as design!

Five Engineering Challenges with Clothespins, Binder Clips, and Craft Sticks

This was Owen’s tallest structure that he built completely himself (he’s almost 7).

Five Engineering Challenges with Clothespins, Binder Clips, and Craft Sticks

And Aidan’s (age 12.5).  As you can see, this is an activity that works well for a wide range of ages.

Five Engineering Challenges with Clothespins, Binder Clips, and Craft Sticks

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!

Five Engineering Challenges with Clothespins, Craft Sticks, and Binder Clips

Five Engineering Challenges with Clothespins, Binder Clips, and Craft Sticks

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!

Five Engineering Challenges with Clothes Pins, Binder Clips, and Craft Sticks

Here is Aidan’s triangle design.

Five Engineering Challenges with Clothespins, Binder Clips, and Craft Sticks

Challenge #5:  Build a domino chain.

Gresham discovered that he could make “dominoes” out of craft sticks and clothespins!

Five Engineering Challenges

Five Engineering Challenges

Then we came up with several designs that didn’t really fit any particular challenge.  The kids just had a great time exploring!

Five Engineering Challenges

Who knew clothespins could be so much fun?

Five Engineering Challenges with Clothespins, Binder Clips, and Craft Sticks

Order Supplies on Amazon:

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.

Five Engineering Challenges with Clothespins, Binder Clips, and Craft Sticks

Also, be sure to check out our Engineering Challenges with Craft Sticks, Cups, and Wooden Cubes!

Five Engineering Challenges with Clothespins, Binder Clips, and Craft Sticks

15 Comments

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  1. Almost Unschoolers May 9, 2016

    Okay, I'm in love with this!

    Reply
    1. Sarah May 11, 2016

      Aw, thanks! It's a fantastic project for kids! (And I enjoyed it too!)

      Reply
    2. Pritika Gupta May 13, 2016

      This is amazing! I will give the supply and this artcile as as my son's birthday return gift :)

      Reply
      1. Michelle Marr May 22, 2016

        This is such a great idea! My boys have been building huge structures with craft sticks and the hot glue gun. Only problem with that is that they're permanent.

        When you're doing projects like the bridge and testing strength, do you wind up with broken pieces?

        Reply
        1. Miksci May 26, 2016

          I can't wait to get the supplies and have my students challenge each other when exams are over. When we let kids create there is no telling what they will come up with and what effect it has on their confidence.

          Reply
          1. Merrilyn Velcek Aug 7, 2016

            great activities for exploring engineering concepts in the classroom. Thanks for sharing.

            Reply
            1. Amber Nov 13, 2016

              My boys are enjoying these challenges. Last week, my eldest was able to make a structure that held 78lbs! He was quite impressed. I have it set up that they can explore with the challenge all week and at the end of the week, we sit down together and do our "final" creation. It's working out well! Thanks for the post!

              Reply
              1. Andy Feb 13, 2017

                Go to dollar tree. They have all of this for one dollar

                Reply
                1. Kiri Jun 8, 2017

                  I did this activity today with a class of 5-6 year olds. They loved it!! Fantastic idea, very engaging and fun. I would highly recommend it. Thank you!!

                  Reply
                  1. Edda Vargas Aug 30, 2017

                    I really liked it.
                    I tried with narrow/regular sticks, and it was harder, but my kids had about an hour of fun.

                    Also, cheaper clothes pins don't balance well by themselves. So, I'll but a little more expensive ones for next try. ?

                    Reply
                    1. Keitha Nov 20, 2017

                      Thanks so much for sharing your fabulous ideas. My Christmas elf is gearing up for another visit and has decided to leave a box of craft sticks, binder clips, and clothespins with your challenges written on a note. The elf used your blocks, craft sticks, & cup challenges in 2015 and your craft stick chain reactions last year.

                      Reply
                      1. rogayah abu bakar Feb 26, 2018

                        your activities gives me an ideas to teach my pupils about strenght and stability. thank you

                        Reply
                        1. Safia Mar 11, 2018

                          I m very thankful to you. You give us such a great ideas .I share these ideas with my kids .send me thinking ideas.how ask question to our kids thanks

                          Reply
                          1. Cathy Hobart Jun 22, 2018

                            Your challenges are such a great way for the regular classroom teacher to bring engineering into their classroom!!! So many different ways to create with such simple supplies. Students with all abilities can be successful in their own way. Thank you so much for sharing!!!

                            Reply
                            1. Debbie Vann Feb 3, 2019

                              I just want to say thank you for freely sharing so many wonderful ideas.I love that you don't charge and just want to share with the community of educators. I've used many of your ideas.

                              Reply
                              1. Marth Matsko Jun 25, 2019

                                great!

                                Reply

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