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In this post, we’re going to walk through a fun and easy experiment you can do with your preschooler at home using plastic straws.
Building structures is an exciting way for preschoolers to learn about engineering and design. It’s also a great opportunity for parents to engage with their kids and help them develop important skills like problem-solving, creativity, and critical thinking.
Let’s get started!
How to make the Straw-tastic Straw Structures engineering experiment
Supplies you will need
For this experiment, you will need the following:
- Plastic straws
Before you start
Depending on the straw structure your preschooler designs, there may be some straw cutting. Please watch over your child if your structure involves cutting.
Here is how to do this experiment with your toddler:
Step 1: Talk about different structures you could build
Before starting the experiment, give your child a quick explanation of what engineering is and how it’s used in everyday life. You could talk about how engineers design and build things, which is what we will be doing in our own experiment!
Show them pictures of bridges, buildings, and other structures and ask them what they think an engineer’s role is in those specific structures.
Step 2: Build your structure
You could start with a super simple structure (perhaps a cube with a small bridge across the top) if you have never done this together before, just to build some confidence. We decided to build a small base with an identical top, connected by cross beams. We finished off by adding a bridge.
This is a great step to allow your child to get creative. They will likely need help, but try to let your child do the bulk of the work.
You could ask questions to help them along, like:
- What shape do you think our structure should be?
- What do you want to try building that you have seen before?
- Should it have a wide base or a smaller base?
You will likely have to help with the tape, since it could bunch up and get frustrating quickly. If your child enjoys role-playing, then you can have them be the engineer and you be their tape assistant.
Speak to whatever your child’s strengths are to help build confidence!
Get your preschooler involved: This is where they should be doing the bulk of the work if they are comfortable. Allow them to get as creative as possible!
Step 3: Put it through a load test!
Once the structure is complete, it’s time to test it out.
Challenge your child to see how much weight their structure can hold. You can use small objects like coins or toys to test the strength of the structure. Encourage your preschooler to make adjustments to the design if needed and try again.
This is a great opportunity to talk about the safety aspect of engineering. Engineers have to work hard on the design, development, and building, but they also have to put those structures through rigorous testing to make sure they’re safe for people!
Get your preschooler involved: Here’s another step that your child can do by themselves. It’s one thing to have you pick out what we use for load testing and do it yourself, but it adds another dimension for your child to weigh objects with their hands and carefully place them on the structure.
The engineering behind the Straw-tastic Straw Structures engineering experiment
This experiment teaches:
- Basic engineering concepts
- Spatial awareness
How it works
In this experiment, we use plastic straws and tape to build a simple structure.
The straw structures experiment teaches basic engineering principles and we can learn about structural stability, balance, weight distribution, and problem-solving. Then, we can test the structure’s strength by adding weight and observing how it holds up.
Basic engineering concepts
Through this experiment, your child can learn that a structure needs a strong foundation and the right connections to maintain stability. As they build with plastic straws, they discover that certain designs and arrangements are more stable than others. They begin to understand the importance of balance, weight distribution, and secure connections.
We can also teach our kids a basic understanding of the forces at play in engineering. They learn that the weight of objects (like our toy and/or coins we used in step 3) can affect the stability of a structure.
From there, we can make any needed adjustments to our structure to make sure it can stand up to a load test.
Building with plastic straws encourages preschoolers to understand and manipulate three-dimensional space.
This experiment is great for developing spatial awareness as they visualize and connect the straws to create their structure. This skill is SO important for future math and science concepts!
Building a structure with plastic straws requires critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
You’re sure to encounter challenges like figuring out how to connect the straws and create a stable structure. Through this experiment, they will learn to overcome obstacles, think creatively, and find solutions.
More engineering experiments to try out with your child
- Build a Catapult: See how far you can launch your objects with this simple homemade catapult!
- Design and Build a Windmill: Put your engineering skills to the test to build a miniature (and working) windmill
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