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.
- Wooden Clothespins
- Binder Clips – Ours are 3/4 inch wide
- Colored Jumbo Craft Sticks – 6 inches long
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!
Almost Unschoolers May 9, 2016
Okay, I'm in love with this!
Sarah May 11, 2016
Aw, thanks! It's a fantastic project for kids! (And I enjoyed it too!)
Pritika Gupta May 13, 2016
This is amazing! I will give the supply and this artcile as as my son's birthday return gift :)
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?
Nick Oct 10, 2022
It shouldn't break any sticks since the weakest part of the structure is the joints, and because they are held together with friction, they just slide apart. If they were glued or nailed or screwed together, then the wood pieces would break first.
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.
Merrilyn Velcek Aug 7, 2016
great activities for exploring engineering concepts in the classroom. Thanks for sharing.
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!
Andy Feb 13, 2017
Go to dollar tree. They have all of this for one dollar
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!!
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. ?
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.
rogayah abu bakar Feb 26, 2018
your activities gives me an ideas to teach my pupils about strenght and stability. thank you
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
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!!!
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.
Marth Matsko Jun 25, 2019
Magali Feb 13, 2020
I love your activities. They show so much creativity and understanding of children likes! Thank you for sharing.
Kayla Mar 10, 2020
Velcro dots on the ends of popsicle sticks work great to.
Vicki May 3, 2020
Thanks so much for sharing these creative projects! I sent my grandchildren these supplies, and we are enjoying the challenges over 3 states! Keep your ideas coming!
kusum Oct 27, 2020
Thanks for sharing your great ideas.
Velena Jul 24, 2022
Wow, Thank you so much for the idea. I am so glad I found you.
Charlie Dec 7, 2022
This is fantastic. I am building a discover museum type program for third graders and this will make an excellent activity to go with 6-7 others.
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