Make time for holiday fun, too
We love the idea of fun holiday-oriented activities that also teach kids some basic principles of engineering and technology. But in the full-on sprint from Thanksgiving to Christmas, getting activities like this up and running can easily fall by the wayside. Phew, too much else to do!
Oh what fun it is, though, to notch shared, holiday events that bring smiles to kids and also impart some learning benefits. So we imposed two stiff tests on our list of seasonal engineering-based activities shared below: it had to be short, and it had to tickle our inner child at first glance.
Engineering activities to try with kids
Herewith, then, in the dwindling days before the holidays are officially here, is the list; see if you think it passes muster.
There are dozens of ways to build a Christmas tree out of household materials.
Use straws connected with dots of play-dough “glue.”
Red and green gumdrops plus toothpicks can reach great heights, before being quickly gobbled up.
Cut out and decorate cardboard triangles of various sizes, cut slits into one side, and start slotting them together into a tree-like form.
Use green plastic cups, upside down, and multi-colored pom poms. Then knock it all down!
Pipe cleaners can form the basis of a challenge to build the tallest, self-sustaining tree structure; add lightweight ornaments to the mix to increase the “STEAM” quotient of this exercise.
An advanced version bases the tree on a 3-D foam cylinder that tapers at the top and features screws, nuts, washers, or the like as branches for ornamentation.
Once you get the hang of the concept, enlisting kids in inventing the challenge themselves puts them in charge of the whole engineering design process here.
Gingerbread Man Trap Challenge
That slippery gingerbread man is always running away, just at the time when you most crave a nibble on a holiday cookie. Making a trap for him can make use of all different kinds of household materials and adds the option of building a story around the need for the trap in the first place. It’s great fun for adults and kids together or kids in groups of their own.
With some paper antlers, magic marker eyes, and a red pom-pom for a nose, a balloon taped to a straw on a string presents an appealing Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Set up strings in parallel and you have a race course. See which Rudolph balloon can lead Santa’s sleigh fastest from one doorknob to another.
I Like a Sleigh Ride
Egg cartons, popsicle sticks, and colorful paint can add up to any number of creatively designed sleighs for Santa (or a more-favored LEGO figure that might be at hand). Design challenges can take any form, involving multiple seating options, variations on skids, or any other sleigh feature kids can imagine.
Things Can Go Wrong
If the magic ever runs out for Santa and his reindeer, what better fallback option than a parachute for old Saint Nick? Put kids to the challenge of designing a parachute to land Santa (or a more-favored LEGO figure …) safely on the ground from some specified height. Part of the fun here can also involve building a story around how and when Santa ends up having to use the parachute.
Someplace to Hang Their Hat
After completing their holiday rounds, all the hard-working animal helpers need someplace to relax their weary bones. Toothpicks and marshmallows of different sizes provide easy-to-manage materials for building cozy winter animal dens. And disassembly is facilitated by the serving-utensil toothpicks built right into the walls.
With that, our list comes to a close. We wish all our readers rest, warmth, and good company over the holidays, and a joyful start to the New Year!
Eric Iversen is VP for Learning and Communications at Start Engineering. He has written and spoken widely on engineering education in the K-12 arena. You can write to him about this topic, especially when he gets stuff wrong, at email@example.com.
You can also follow along on Twitter @StartEnginNow.
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