Updated: Apr 28
Now is a great time to take out some old toys you may have around the house and put them to new uses. I know as the mom of two boys, (now in high school and college), I always had plenty of LEGOs and action figures under my feet. Below are a few ideas to breathe some new life into toys you already have, whether they are favorites or collecting dust. Besides making something old new again, this may be a fun way to inject a little engineering, math and science into everyday play. Engineering challenges at home allow kids to practice problem solving and planning for real world scenarios.
1. Design a Wheelchair for an Action Figure
Time: 15-60 mins
Oh no! Batman has broken his leg. Your job is to design a wheelchair so your favorite action figure can still fight crime (or perhaps cause chaos?). Using a larger than LEGO figure creates a few new challenges for your at home engineer to solve (size, balance, etc).
Extension: Expand this challenge to create other items for oversized action figures - cars, planes, helicopters. What else can you come up with?
Key terms: wheel, axle, community needs
2. LEGO Neighborhood Map
Time: 30 min - multi-multi day project
Make good use of all those Amazon boxes! Cut open a large box (or use any other large paper/cardboard) and spread it out on the floor. Use markers, crayons or paint to sketch out a map of your neighborhood. Use LEGO blocks to build houses, schools and other buildings, for a 3D map.
Extension: Use real twigs, paper and clay to construct trees, bushes, plants. This could go on for several days as you integrate different components to build a mini-scale neighborhood.
Key terms: map, planning, construction
3. Design a Lego Catapult
Time: 30 mins- several hours
Catapults are always fun. Designing catapults is a great way to get kids thinking about simple machines. Sometimes the best way for kids to understand how a catapult works is to begin by building a seesaw. A seesaw is a first class lever. Challenge kids to balance LEGOs equally on the seesaw. What happens when you add more LEGOs to one side? Now, move the pivot point (fulcrum) over to see what happens when you try to launch a LEGO (or another safe ammunition -this is called the load) from one side. The effort is the force applied to move the lever. Below is an example of a catapult I built using Duplos.
Extension: Build paper or cardboard forts, castles or other buildings as targets.
Key Terms: fulcrum, load, effort
4. Build a LEGO Bridge
Time: 45 mins - several hours (paper towels or towels recommended!)
For a fun challenge - take out a narrow pan and fill it with water. Now, set the scene by placing 2 LEGO minifigures (or any other action figures) on opposite sides of the "river". Explain: These friends want to hang out today - but the river is very choppy so they can't swim across. How can they meet? They need a bridge! Challenge kids to build a bridge over the water so the friends can cross. Remember a foot bridge needs stairs. Discuss how bridges can stay up. There are lots of awesome bridge pictures to look up online for inspiration.
Extension: Build scenery on either side of the bridge. Perhaps the two friends were going to have a picnic in the park (Stormtroopers and aliens LOVE picnics). Add trees, picnic tables, playground equipment, etc!
Key Terms: bridge, arch, support
5. Float your LEGO Boat
Time: 15-60 mins (paper towels or towels recommended!)
Since we are already talking about a river in the above bridge challenge, let's think about building a boat! This can be an additional challenge or one that is all its own. Begin by testing what sinks and what floats. Make predictions about which LEGO pieces may float better than others. Try other objects to predict what sinks and floats as well. Construct a boat that can float for 1 minute without taking on water. What happens if you add in a LEGO minifigure?
Key Terms: buoyancy, density, float