When I was a Destination Imagination team leader, we had weekly challenges for our team to complete with minimal supplies, all found around the house. These fun building challenges were STEM activities on a budget! The innovation and creativity that came from the kids was phenomenal. It took practice, teamwork, strategic thinking, patience, and a sense of humor, but with practice my team grew together and became expert engineers. Here are 10 building, STEM activities you can do with materials you already have at home. The key to innovation and success is to repeat the activities several times, discussing strategy, what worked and didn’t work, and how you will improve it next time. Remember to let the kids be in charge, and hold yourself back from interfering with their creative process. In all of the challenges, kids are invited to alter the materials in any way: tearing, folding, rolling, bending, etc.
10 STEM Activities on a Budget
1. Paper Tower
Materials: stack of paper from recycling
Instructions: In 5 minutes, build a structure as tall as you can using only paper. After first attempt, discuss how rolling and folding the paper might help.
2. Balloon Tower
Materials: paper, 1 cup, 1 balloon, 2 rubber bands, 4 spoons, 6 mailing labels, 2 straws, 10 toothpicks, string
Instructions: Balance the blown up balloon in the cup. Now build a tower (as tall as you can) on top of the balloon using the materials.
3. Strong Tower
Materials: stack of paper from recycling; pile of books
Instructions: Build a tower that will hold as many books as possible, at least 6 inches off the ground.
4. Ball Bridge
Materials: stack of paper from recycling, 10 mailing labels, 2 cups, 4 pipe cleaners, 8 straws, a ping-pong ball
Instructions: Place 2 chairs 14 inches apart. Using the materials given, build a bridge between the chairs that transports a ping pong ball from one side to the other.
5. Buoyancy Boats
Materials: 12″ x 12″ foil square, coins or small pebbles
Instructions: Form the foil into a boat, and see how many coins or pebbles it can hold while floating in water. Experiment with different boat designs to see which holds the most weight.
6. Minimalist Tower
Materials: 12″ of tape and 1 manila envelope
Instructions: Build the tallest tower possible using only the materials provided.
7. Edible Structure
Materials: raw spaghetti and marshmallows
Instructions: Build the tallest structure possible using the materials provided.
8. Build a Maze
Materials: playdough, Q-tips, cookie sheet
Instructions: Using globs of playdough, connect the Q-tips to make a maze that a pingpong ball use to travel from one side of the cookie sheet to the other.
9. Penny Power
Materials: 25 pennies, stack of paper from recycling, 6 straws, 5 mailing labels, 3 coffee stirrers
Instructions: Build a structure than can hold as many pennies as possible, 4″ off the ground.
10. Cup Pyramid with Teamwork
Materials: 25 plastic cups (16 oz Solo cups work the best), 1 rubber band, string
Instructions: This is the most advanced and difficult challenge, and will require several attempts to get it. Tie pieces of 12″ string to the rubber band (as many pieces as you have people. This works best in groups of 4-8, but you could do it with as little as 3). Standing in a circle, everyone holds onto a piece of the string. The kids need to pull on their strings to expand the rubber band, and then move into together to shrink the rubber band around the cups, in order to use the band to pick up the cups. The idea is to build a pyramid with the cups, only using the rubber band tool.
Math Night Packet of STEM Activities
If you enjoyed these STEM activities on a budget, you will love our collection of math games! This math night packet includes math games and activities perfect for a family or school-wide math night, or for math centers. They are hands-on, interactive games that can be easily adapted for different levels. Games are appropriate and fun for preK through 5th grade, and practice a variety of math skills. Go now >
This post is part of the 28 Days Of Hands-On STEM Activities For Kids. Check out all the great challenges!
Tammy Longmire says
Great activities! My students are going to love them as much as I do. I especially like how $ friendly they are. Thank you for sharing!