Build a Boat STEM Challenge


Can you build a boat using only popsicle sticks and tape? It’s not as easy as it may sound. Young engineers dive into the world of boat building using only these two materials with this Build a Boat STEM Challenge. This is a simple activity that encourages problem solving, experimenting, and lots of learning.

STEM challenges are a great way for children to use familiar materials in a whole new way. They also encourage children to combine their imagination, engineering and design skills with this hands-on experience.

Children learn about engineering, physics, and the amazing science behind buoyancy, stability, and design. Challenges like this provide engaging and hands-on experiences that encourage critical thinking, problem-solving, collaboration, and creativity.

By building a boat from popsicle sticks and tape, children gain hands-on experience in constructing a structure that can withstand the challenges of staying afloat in water. Will your children create a sleek speedboat, a majestic sailboat, or a wild and wacky pirate ship? The design is up to them.

So, get ready to create a boat that not only floats and holds a small load, but also displays young builders STEM skills.

For more STEM challenges and activity ideas visit, Apple Boat Science Experiment for Kids and my huge collection of 45+ STEM Challenge Ideas for Kids.

As with all activities for children with water, make sure to supervise while children are building and testing their boat. Click for more Water STEM Activities

build a boat STEM challenge shows a pinterst pin.

Build a Boat STEM Challenge Materials

I love creating and prepairing STEM challenges for my students and my own kids at home. When I first started doing STEM activities, I was teaching over a hundred 3-5 year olds. I had to use materials that were easy to find and inexpensive. This build a boat STEM challenge is part of my collection of 10 Exciting STEM Activities with Just 10 Materials.

For this STEM challenge, you will need:

  • Jumbo Popsicle Sticks (Regular popsicle sticks will also work.) Any color.
  • Tape (Masking Tape or Clear Tape Will Work).
  • Play Dough (Optional)
  • Elastics (Optional)

You will also need a sink or bin with water.

build a boat stem challenge shows popsicle sticks, tape and a container of play dough.

Build a Boat STEM Challenge Activity Card

For many of my STEM challenges, there is a matching activity card that you can print. This card can be given to children to give them instructions to do the challenge independently. It can also be taped at a STEM activity center for children to have the activity card when they visit the center.

stem activity shows an activity card that says build a boat stem use the materials to build a boat that floats and holds a weight.

The card can also be printed and put with the challenge materials, into a bag to send home or give to children as a STEM kit. For a limited time the activity card can be found, for free in the Resource Library.

The challenge is for children to use the supplies to create a boat that floats on water and can hold a bit of weight and not sink. You can choose to set popsicle sticks on the boats to test that it can hold weight, or use a container and play dough.

Once you have the supplies, it’s time to let the kids start creating!

stem challenge materials shows a line of colorful popsicle sticks taped together and more sticks and tape.

Build a Boat STEM Challenge Examples

I am always impressed by the designs that children come up with. Some of the boats children create may seem like an unusual design, but these unique ideas are where new innovations and designs come from. If it floats, consider it a success.

STEM popsicle sticks shows a red boat.

We had lots of boats that floated. Once children realized that all of the popsicle sticks float, because they are made from wood, they were excited that no matter their design their sticks would always float. Once they knew it would float, the real design process began.

Children began creating rafts with a large, flat top and other boats shaped like an H. Some kids even worked a rainbow, or other color design into their boat.

boat building challenge shows a rainbow boat taped across the top and bottom and popsicle sticks bundled in the back.

One problem children will quickly notice when they put their boat into the water is that the tape may not hold well once wet. It depends what type of tape you use for the challenge, but it may break off a bit once it is wet.

You have a few options. Clear tape works better or in combination with the tape you can offer elastics. This is up to you. I liked using the tape because it is part of STEM challenges for things to not go perfectly. Builders have to work with, and find solutions to a problem using the materials they have.

stem for kids shows an H shaped boat.

Some children started tying the tape and using it by folding, and twisting it almost like a rope. It was amazing to watch this type of problem solving.

Build a Boat STEM Challenge Testing in Water

Once you have created a boat and are ready to test, fill a small bin, or container, with water. Set the boat into the water and watch to see what happens. The boat will float because it is made with wood, but kids will love seeing how it moves.

stem building challenge shows a rainbow boat taped together and set in water.

We used colored popsicle sticks which looked great, but we also found out that the color ran off once they were in the water for a few minutes. It wasn’t a big deal for us, but if you’re looking to avoid this make sure to use natural popsicle sticks.

building challenge shows a child pushing down a popsicle stick boat into water.

Once in the water place a load/weight. We used a play dough container at first and added balls of play dough, one at a time, to see how much weight the boat could hold before it started to sink. Adding some weight is also a great way to test how stable and strong each boat is.

build a boat stem challenge shows a H shaped boat with a deck in the middle with a container with dough on top all made from popsicle sticks and tape.

Once kids test their boat in the water, they can take it out and make any changes they want. If tape is pealing, they will come up with a solution to keep it holding better.

build a boat stem activity shows two popsicle stick boats in water.

Enjoy the process and remind children that the creating, testing and making changes are the focus and goal, not the final result.

Boat Building STEM Activity Examples

One boat that ended up with a really interesting and successful design was this square frame. The child knew that the wood would float, but needed the tape to stay and keep the boat floating with lots of weight.

stem shows a child holding a square made of four stacks of popsicle sticks taped together.
science experiment shows a square popsicle stick boat placed in water.
stem activity shows four stacks of popsicle sticks and a square frame from the sticks.

They made the frame and then simply set a few rows of popsicle sticks across the square. This boat was able to hold a lot of weight without breaking almost at all. It was an interesting strategy and unique looking boat.

build a boat shows a square popsicle sticks and a layer of sticks on top and a container of play dough.

I hope you enjoy this Build a Boat STEM challenge. If you are looking for more ideas, make sure to peek through my blog for lots of STEM ideas – many using the same supplies at this activity.

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