Kids love to build and create. A bunch of blocks can quickly become a work of art. My children have shown an interest in STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Technology) activities and hands-on building and constructing. They love building with their wooden blocks, and this activity kept them creating and thinking all afternoon. All you need is a handful of blocks and you are ready to begin!
I have created a set of over 50 S.T.E.M. building challenges to compliment this activity and keep kids busy, while learning and problem solving, as they build and create at home or school. These printable cards are available through Teachers Pay Teachers. (Link at bottom).
When I am coming up with activities to do in the classroom I love when I find something that does not require a lot of prep. It is also a bonus if the activity requires materials that I already have available to me. This STEM activity does both!
When in school, I teach over 100 kids aged 3-6 every day. Everyone enjoyed this STEM building challenge and it is easy prepare. I have also used the activity with older children, and at home.
One of the great things about STEM challenges is that they are a great way to encourage children to problem solve in a hands-on way. The other thing that I love about STEM activities is that the same activity and challenge can be used with young children or older.
Younger children who are being introduced to STEM challenges are typically excited to build and learn from the trial and error. Older children will begin to consider the design and engineering in their creations and make them much more complex.
The STEM Activity:
All you really need for this activity are a collection of wooden blocks. It doesn’t matter if they are colourful or just plain wood. The blocks that I used were all the same rectangular shape. However, you can certainly use wooden blocks that are different shapes. For all STEM challenges, simply use what you have.
The mini building blocks that I used I found at a local dollar store. I purchased them years ago for my classroom and they have been well used over the years.
To start, I gave each student one set of the blocks (36 blocks). I gave everyone 5 minutes to build and explore with their blocks. They had no restrictions or specific tasks that they had to do with the blocks. I try to do this free exploration any time I introduce new materials because once children have had a chance to play freely with the materials, they are then more ready to learn and follow directions.
After the 5 minutes, our challenge began! I started simple and challenged children to build a house using their blocks. A simple ideas like this is important to start. It makes all children feel that they can be successful with the materials.
Any house works. Some children will build something with 5 blocks and call it a house. Other children will go further and have a three story house with a backyard and garage! Either creation is okay to start.
I gave students roughly 5 minutes for each STEM building challenge. If you have more time, or are doing the challenges at home, you can allow children to build at their own pace.
The next challenge was my favourite. I asked everyone to create a staircase. At first, some children were a bit discouraged. They could picture a staircase in their mind, but not build one. However, once they started putting blocks together and trying different things out, they came up with a variety of staircases.
This is what I love about STEM activities! After doing STEM challenges children learn that their first attempt is not always going to work. They have to try and try again. As long as they don’t give up then they are successful. STEM challenges are not about getting it perfect. They are about trying and learning from each try.
For the staircase, some were almost flat to the table (shown above) but it still resembled a staircase. I was amazed how I ended up with over 20 different staircase designs – yet with each one you could tell it was a staircase!
The next challenge we did, was to build a boat. It is interesting to see how different each child’s creations are. They each have their own vision of what a boat looks like and they use that image to create with 3d shapes.
I continued to give different challenges, including building a tower with exactly 16 blocks and even to build something with their eyes closed for 2 minutes.
This activity easily filled an hour, but children were ready to do many more STEM building challenges.
We continued on with lots of different challenges. Some were harder then others. We moved through the challenges fairly quickly so that everyone kept creating.
After doing several challenges, children were keen to keep creating. I made up a bunch of activity cards (link below) that I placed with the blocks at a building centre in our classroom and given to my own kids at home.
Since this activity was such a success, I have repeated it several times. On days that you have some extra time for a STEM challenge, giving children a longer period to build each structure is also beneficial. You will be amazed with what they can come up with.
STEM Extension Activity
Since students were so eager to build and create with the blocks, the next day I incorporated the blocks into our activity again. I began by reading the popular book “The Three Billy Goats Gruff”. After I finished, I challenged students to build a bridge for the goat. I handed out a bag of blocks to everyone and also gave them a small wooden figure. This was the represent the troll. The only rule was that the troll had to be able to fit under the bridge.
Their creations were very impressive! All of the bridges looked different, but they all worked as a bridge for their troll. It was a great learning activity and children really enjoyed building and working to create something. For over 50 STEM building challenges click the link below for printable cards to compliment this activity at home or school. (Available on Teachers Pay Teachers.)
Try out some other STEM building challenges: