Inside: Are you looking for fall science activities? Acorns and play-dough engineering challenge is a super fun way to engage children in STEM learning.
One question that I have received countless times over the years is how to start STEM education at home. Even though incorporating Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math at home might seem intimidating, I promise it’s not! (At least, not if you have the right information and inspiration).
In today’s activity, all you need is a pile of acorns and some homemade playdough for your kids to start learning about structures and engineering. Want to take it a step further? Add sticks and stones for advanced construction.
Seriously, that’s all you need for a simple, easy, cheap, and fun way to learn STEM.
Engineering for Kids
Building structures with marshmallows, jelly beans, and graham crackers are all classic engineering activities for kids. For a fun little autumn flavor though, we are using acorns today.
Did you know that acorns are the nuts of oak trees? There are over 400 species of oaks, and they all produce slightly different acorns in terms of color, shape, and size. It’s fun to explore how many different acorns you can find in your area.
Even though playing with acorns might seem childish, it’s hugely educational.
While building with acorns kids will:
- Practice problem solving,
- Test cause and effect,
- Learn math (estimating, symmetry, and balance),
- Master the basics of science (scientific reasoning and testing),
- Exercise fine motor skills, and
- Engage creativity.
Acorn Engineering Challenge
If your kids lack the inspiration to get started, present them with an engineering challenge like the ones below.
- What’s the tallest, free-standing structure they can build with 30 acorns and the pile of Play-Doh.
- What’s the role of playdough in our construction? (To keep the acorns together)!
- Can they build an acorn pyramid that can be moved from one spot to another without falling apart?
- Can their construction pass a drop test?
- What is the first step they can take to make a simple shape like a straight line? I helped my youngest daughter to make a straight line by directing her to use a stick as a base.
- What shapes do they know?
- What shape would be the sturdiest for a house?
- Can they build an acorn bridge that supports a LEGO car?
What you need
- Sticks and stones (optional)
- Homemade playdough (our recipe: 2 cups flour, 1 cup salt, 1 ¼ cups hot water)
What to do
Before the activity, make the playdough. I use a super-fast and easy recipe that never fails. In a bowl, dump together 2 cups of flour, 1 cup of salt, and 1 ¼ cup of hot water. Mix until all the ingredients stick together in a classic playdough consistency.
Ask your kids to help knead the dough. You will need to wash your hands afterward because in the initial stages the mixture is very sticky.
– Straight Lines
Ask kids to arrange acorns in geometric shapes that they know, and then use Play-Doh to secure nuts in place. Your kids will probably start with straight lines, and that’s great.
Younger kids might need a stick to help them make a straight line.
Take it to step further, and encourage kids to find a way to make more sophisticated designs. What comes to their minds?
In our case, cars come to mind.
Can cars drive over acorns? It’s a bumpy ride, but can a straight line survive it?
We learned that if we leave playdough overnight to dry, then the resulting construction is pretty sturdy.
– Build a functional structure
Now for the biggest challenge: ask kids to build a structure that can be used by Lego men or cars.
Perhaps a bridge or a house.
My kids used stones and acorns to build a long bridge from one side of a plastic container with LEGO bricks to another.
When the original bridge broke, they built a new one on the grass. It turned out to be even more successful than the previous one.
It’s a kind of construction that continues to develop for days. First, all the cars in the house have to drive over it. Then little puppies and people are added to the game because … why not?
Before you know it half your indoor toys are outside and the construction includes not only acorns, playdough, stick, and stones, but anything else they can find.
And that’s okay! This is what happens when you combine engineering, curiosity, creativity, and fun.
As I watched my kids work on this challenge, I understood how generations of humans have managed to learn all the basics of science without access to science kits or online classes. They worked with items around them: observed, tried, failed, tried again, and figured out enough to survive and thrive generation after generation.