Here are five fun engineering challenges for kids to do with KEVA planks!
If you’re not familiar with KEVA planks (the brand is Mind Ware), they are small wooden building blocks. You can use them to build all sorts of amazing structures without glue or connections – just stack them! We purchased ours two years ago, and I can truly say that they are an open-ended toy that appeals to almost any age. Preschoolers use them for building fences for their pretend zoos or towers or caves, and older kids can engineer buildings, castles, and more.
Where to get KEVA planks:
The KEVA Contraptions set is a great one to start with as it comes with 200 planks, a couple of balls, and a building guide.
If you want cool colors, check out the KEVA Colors set! (But note that it only has 120 planks for about the same price.)
NOTE: The challenges below were built over the course of several days. If you’re working with kids, one challenge is probably sufficient for one class period. Possibly two challenges. Kids will want plenty of time to explore.
Challenge #1: Build the Widest Bridge
How far does your bridge span? Measure the distance and then try to beat it!
Here’s one way to do it:
Another approach to building a bridge:
Kids will quickly discover that weight must be added to the sides in order to counterbalance the weight in the middle.
Challenge #2: Build a Marble Run
Last week, we played with KEVA planks at our first ever Frugal Fun for Boys local meet-up! The kids who came to the meet-up adapted this idea from one of the suggestions in the book and made it a marble race game. So creative.
Look at all those busy kids! Everyone cooperated and contributed. It was so much fun!
We re-created the marble race at home so that you can see it a little better.
You can lift one plank and release all three marbles at one time.
Extend the challenge: One family at our meet-up added a small staircase to the top of their marble race. The marble would roll down the staircase and “choose” one of the race lanes – it was fun to see how it was different every time!
Here’s another way to build a marble run:
Challenge #3: Build a Musical Marble Run!
KEVA planks make a neat sound when a marble lands on them, and so we experimented with some staircase style marble runs. Did you know that you can create a rhythm by stacking the planks in different patterns and then rolling a marble down them?
The photo below is rhythm #2 from the video. This first rhythm is just a simple staircase. Then I filled in every other step so that the steps are now 1 plank long, then 2 planks long, then 1 plank long, then 2, etc.
On the day that we built the rhythmic marble runs, we had some friends stop by. I had built the marble run in the photo above, and after watching how it worked, Owen and his friend (also age 6) got busy designing their own marble runs.
We also experimented with adding some metal brackets (from the hardware store). They add a nice “ding” sound to the marble run. If you have an old toy xylophone (like the toddler ones) that you can take apart, it would be really fun to use the keys from that to create different notes.
Aidan added some planks for the marble to knock down, domino style.
Aidan also made a few spiral marble runs. In order to keep the marble on the track, he had to add some wooden cubes – these are the ones that we used in our craft stick engineering challenges.
Challenge #4: Build something that you can fit inside.
Aidan (age 12) built this one, but Owen (6) wanted to pose in it for the picture! The skill learned in this project was that the planks are much more stable if you overlap them.
Challenge #5: Build from Small to Big
Start with a small base. Build a structure that is larger than the base it is built on.
Aidan started with three planks on the bottom layer. How much can he build on top?
He quickly discovered that he needed weight in the middle to counterbalance the weight on the sides. He added a few more planks after we took the photo below, and the whole thing toppled!
Have fun building! If your kids do these challenges, I’d love to see pictures! Feel free to post on the Frugal Fun for Boys Facebook page.
More STEM Activities for Kids: