STEM Challenge that Kids will Love


Want an awesome activity that will encourage kids to problem solve and build? Use stacking cups and popsicle sticks! This STEM challenge is fun and engaging for kids of all ages. It is a great activity to promote fine motor skills and coordination.

I am fascinated by, and learn so much from watching children problem solve especially during STEM challenges (Science Technology Engineering and Math). 

If you are looking for STEM activities for kindergarten or kids of all ages, this is a great place to start. It uses simple materials and kids of all ages will feel successful when creating.

If you like this activity, you’ll love the 10 STEM activities with 10 materials. Collect simple materials to complete ten different STEM challenges.

I am always very proud of the kids I work with when they are working on a STEM challenge and something doesn’t work, and I hear the words “That’s okay, we can do it again better”.  This is music to my ears.

STEM Challenge shows a pinterest pin with a tower of stacked cups and cups filled with jumbo popsicle sticks.

STEM Challenge Materials

For this STEM challenge all you need are cups, large popsicle sticks and a plastic character.

If you don’t have popsicle sticks, you can also cut cardboard into long rectangles and use in place of popsicle sticks. (It works really well!)

I used large popsicle sticks, or tongue depressors, but use what you have on hand.

STEM challenge shows stacks of plastic cups, groups of jumbo popsicle sticks and plastic little people.

Throughout our STEM activities, the children and I talk about thinking like an engineer, never giving up and learning from their mistakes. 

I really feel like most of my students now approach these challenges with this attitude; which in many ways is more important than the actual challenge. 

stem challenge shows three stacks of styrofoam cups with jumbo popsicle sticks in each.

The STEM Challenge

Today our STEM challenge involved building a tower as tall as possible to ‘reach to the sky’. 

Children were given the materials that they were allowed to use and encouraged to use as many of the materials as they could.

stem challenge shows a tower made from popsicle sticks and styrofoam cups with a plastic dog on top.

For this STEM challenge kids were paired up and given a stack of approximately 15-20 cups, roughly 20 large popsicle sticks and a little plastic character to build the tower for.

You don’t need to include the small plastic character if you don’t have one. However, it was interesting to watch how dedicated my students were in creating a tower for their character. It gave them a focus and a purpose for creating.

The character also ensured that the towers were strong and stable enough to hold the figure.

STEM activity for kids shows a tower made from cups and sticks with a plastic dog on top.

Children needed to build a tower as tall as possible and then set their character on top.  As long as the character does not fall off, we call it a success.  Can you create one higher?

I encouraged groups to use all of the materials that they were given. Some groups built their tower vertically, other groups liked the idea of a longer tower or building and built a long tower.

I loved seeing their visions and buildings.

STEM Challenge Results

Since the goal was to build a tall tower, once groups felt that they were ready and had built as tall as they could, we measured their creations. The tallest tower that was created was 9 cups high. 

STEM challenge shows a tower made from clear cups and jumbo popsicle sticks.

I love doing STEM activities for kindergarten children, and older grades, and in all 4 classes that I did this STEM tower challenge with, the first 15 minutes for almost every group was spent just stacking the cups. 

This is an important step for young kids. Children need this time to explore and experiment with their materials.

They are testing out what works with the cups and sticks. Once they felt comfortable with their materials, then they really began to build.

stem challenge shows a huge tower made from plastic cups stacked on top of each other and a plastic cow on top.

After experimenting with the materials, groups then began using the popsicle sticks to help stabilize the levels. 

It was interesting to watch group after group come to this solution.

stem challenge shows plastic cups stacked with popsicle sticks in between.

Kids worked for the whole period, happily building and rebuilding their towers.  Every group’s tower fell at some point and then they built it again. 

This is an important part of the challenge and an important skill for children to learn.

STEM activity shows one stack of styrofoam cups with a spiral of popsicle sticks set on top.

We ended up with quite a collection of towers. Some were tall, whereas other groups build out instead of up, but their creations were typically stronger.

This is a really simple STEM challenge that you can do at home or at school.

stem challenge shows a long tower made from cups and popsicle sticks.

I love seeing the progress and strategies students use the more they are exposed to STEM challenges.  The activities create great problem solvers and children that persist when presented with a challenge. 

It is very rewarding to watch – both as a parent and teacher.

Extension Activities

Once children have built a tower with these materials there are lots of other activities you can do with them. You can get the cups and sticks out time and time again.

You can challenge children to build with only a specific number of cups and/or sticks. This would require them to do some counting to get the right number of cups and sticks before building.

Another idea that requires some math is to use a ruler to measure and compare tower heights.

How many centimeters/inches is the tallest tower?

What is the difference between the tallest and shortest tower?

STEM Challenge Materials

All of the materials you need for this STEM challenge are available. For your convenience, a link to the materials are provided below if you are interested in purchasing. Happy creating!

If you have children that love to design as they build, encourage them to build a tower or house with a doorway at the front. It is amazing what children can come up with!

This is also a great opportunity for children to talk about and describe their creation. There are often details that we, as adults, don’t see, but children have put thought and creativity into.

It is always interesting to hear children explain and tell about what they build.

Another idea is to challenge children to see what the fewest number of cups/sticks they can build a tower with is.

What building strategies can they use to use minimal cups and sticks, but still have their tower strong and not fall over?

Finally, can you build a tower that is longer than you?

Free Activity Cards

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More STEM Challenges and Activities for Kids

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