Inside: From helping Snow White get away from her stepmom to designing an accordion bridge to help goats cross the river, these Fairy Tales STEM challenges are fun! They can be done any time, but they are especially good after reading fairy tales. You can combine it with our 30-day Fairy Tale Reading Challenge for a complete Fairy Tale experience.
We love science around here, and there’s no shortage of science experiments we’ve done over the years and passed on to you. But do you know what we haven’t shared with you yet?
Fairy Tale STEM!
What’s a Fairy Tale STEM?
It’s science, technology, engineering, and math-based solutions that help famous fairy tale characters solve their fairy tale problems! In other words, it’s your kids’ opportunity to step into action and save the day using their awesome STEM skills!
The premise is simple – every fairy tale is based on a problem or a series of problems: Billy goats need to cross to the greener pasture by passing the troll. Little Red Riding Hood needs to deliver food to her grandma without being eaten. And Rapunzel needs to get Prince up and into the Tower without using her hair (because that would hurt!).
So, fairy tale STEM is an invitation for your kids to use their superior modern world knowledge, critical and problem-solving skills, and the supplies from around the house to help them conquer fairy tale world problems.
Without a doubt, problem-solving skills are a powerful tool in the world no matter what your kids decide to do with their lives down the road. Plus, simply giving your kids an opportunity to be inventive and original is a great antidote to the worksheets and multiple-choice questions that permeate the modern learning environment.
How to set it up
When it comes to the nitty-gritty of these STEM challenges, don’t obsess about having the right supplies. Use what you already have handy, and challenge your kids to come up with creative solutions.
I found that with very young kids, it’s better to direct their efforts, at least at the start. Otherwise, they end up feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of the task. You don’t have to tell them what to do, but you can ask gentle questions to point them in the right direction.
You can ask,
– What do you think is the problem here?
– What’s the best outcome you can think of for this problem?
– What supplies might be most useful to make that happen and why?
With older kids, it seemed that presenting them with a task and giving them time to think about it for a while worked best. If you have multiple kids, letting them collaborate and then present their idea to you together might be a way to go.
Also, instead of stating the problem, you can have your kids read a fairy tale first and then have them identify the problem that needs solving on their own – just to see what they can come up with.
9 Printable Fairy Tale Challenges
Below are nine challenges that worked extremely well for us. I list what we used for the supplies, but feel free to use whatever you have handy.
Challenge #1: Rapunzel
Rapunzel has a problem. She wants the prince to climb up into her tower, but she doesn’t want to use her hair (Ouch!) to pull him up.
Supplies: a paper towel roll, toilet paper rolls, construction paper, and washi tape to build a tower. For a simple pulley: a thread spool, string, tape, chopstick, and tissue paper boxes or LEGO blocks.
In what direction do we want the prince to go – up or down? What simple machine can help us do that?
Challenge #2: The Three Little Pigs
Wolf has a problem. He just wants a bit of pork for dinner, but little pigs keep messing up his plans. He needs to break the brick house walls. Can you help him build a wrecking ball?
Supplies: LEGO bricks or other kinds of blocks to build a house to wreck, rope or string, a ball (you can use any kind of ball or even an apple), tape, and something to support the wrecking ball structure.
We tried a couple of ideas. Our most successful one was to tie a string to a tennis ball and then use tape to hang it on a string at the room entrance. We had to play with height until we found what we needed. My kids really loved wrecking the LEGO house 🙂 They did it for hours!
Ask, what causes objects to move? What happens when two objects collide? Can a wrecking ball be considered a pendulum?
Challenge #3: Sleeping Beauty
Sleeping Beauty‘s parents have a problem. They got word that their daughter would prick her finger and fall asleep despite their efforts to destroy all spindles. So now, instead of hunting down all spindles in the kingdom, they want to design a tower to keep Sleeping Beauty locked up.
Supplies: pencils, butcher’s paper, paper rolls, craft sticks, twine, pipe cleaners, and tape.
We had a ton of fun with this one, besides playing with building towers from different materials (probably for three days in a row :), we ended up drawing a couple of towers to glue to our structure. Our favorite tower was a quick scribble with a marker on one of those long brown rolls of paper that Amazon packages sometimes include to prevent purchases from moving around inside the box. The goal was that the structure had to be tall enough to prevent an easy escape. Our princess had to be trapped in the tower. As my son said, “I just love this challenge!”
Ask, what’s the hardest part of building a tall structure? If you could use any material in the world to make your structure, what would you use?
Challenge #4: Three Billy Goats Gruff
Billy Goats have a problem. They want to cross to the other side of the river where the grass is greener, but a mean troll is guarding the bridge. Help Billy goats build their own sturdy bridge across the river.
Supplies: construction paper, craft sticks, pipe cleaners, tape, sticks, and rocks found on a walk.
We used construction paper folded like an accordion for the bridge. To set up the scene, we used stones and a Pyrex container filled with water for the river.
Ask, what do you think makes a bridge strong? What would make a bridge fold under weight?
Challenge #5: Jack and the Beanstalk
Jack has a problem. The magic beans he got in exchange for his last cow are not growing. He needs your help identifying things that make plants grow. (Allow 10-21 days for this project).
Supplies: dry beans, kitchen towels or cotton balls, and a mason jar or plastic baggies.
Ask kids: How can you turn those dry beans into live plants? How can you keep the live plant healthy? What can you do to encourage them to grow tall? If you have already done this activity in the past, let kids get creative and do a little experimenting with their beans – would beans grow in milk? sugar water? margarine?
Challenge #6: The Three Little Pigs
The three little pigs have a problem. The wolf is on the way, and they need to build a home that can’t be blown down.
Supplies: sticks, real straw (or plastic straws), LEGO bricks, marshmallows (we used mini marshmallows), paper, and plastic pigs. Plus, it’s awesome if you have a small fan to use as the wind!
Ask kids: What makes a structure stable? What do we have to consider when we make a choice of materials? What do we know about the properties of building materials that can help us make our choice?
Challenge #7: The Wolf and the Seven Young Goat
The seven goat kids have a problem: they need to keep the wolf away from their front yard until Mommy Goat comes back home. Design a working catapult to keep that pesky wolf away with projectiles.
Supplies: craft sticks, spoons, coins or pom-poms, rubber bands.
What does a catapult do? How does it work? What’s a projectile? What force moves a projectile – push or pull?
Challenge #8: Snow White
Snow White has a problem. She is running away from her murderous stepmother but the river is blocking her way. Can you help her build a sturdy raft to get to the other side?
Supplies: chopsticks or sticks, plastic wrap or grass, construction paper, rubber bands, water, and small stones.
There are many ways to build a raft. For raft #1, we used four chopsticks and plastic wrap to keep them together. For raft #2, we used sticks and grass. If you don’t have a small figurine or LEGO Duplo Snow White, use stones or pennies to test the raft in the bowl filled with water, in a bathtub, or in a river.
Ask kids: What do we need to build a raft that really floats? How much weight can the raft support?
Challenge #9: Little Red Riding Hood
Little Red Riding Hood has a problem. She needs a new basket to carry food to her grandma. Can you help her put together something that will hold a few LEGO pieces?
Supplies: yarn, pipe cleaners, LEGO pieces, sticks, and rubber bands.
What we ended up doing was arranging pipe cleaners around a lemon and then weaving yarn in and out all around until we got a basket shape. It took some time but it was totally worth it!
Ask kids: Can you put an elephant in a purse? No! Too big, too heavy … What makes a basket an appropriate size? What does Little Red need to carry in her basket? How can you build a strong base?
Want to print the challenges?
Looking for more Fairy Tale Resources for Your Kids?
Fairy Tale Word Search
Unscramble the Fairy Tales Words
The fairy tale I SPY pages
Fairy Tale Scavenger Hunt