It’s that time of year, when kids have returned to the school routine.
And although this year may look different, one thing that has stayed the same is that kids need the opportunity to get creative and learn how to problem solve.
This is why STEM activities for kids have become so popular. STEM gives kids a chance to get creative, think outside the box, and problem solve, all while having fun.
With fall approaching, and the return to school, this apple wrecking ball STEM challenge is perfect to do with your child this month.
They will have lots of fun designing and engineering their very own wrecking ball with an apple.
Fall is the perfect time for apple activities for kids. It’s one reason preschool and kindergarten classes tend to do”apple units,” with a variety of activities, all with an apple theme to them.
When my own kids were that age we had fun with this apple-themed sight word game.
Even though they are older now, they still enjoy doing activities with a theme…and this apple activity was a favorite.
For more fall-themed STEM fun, check out our catapulting pumpkins.
Apple STEM Challenge
Why is this a challenge and not an activity?
Instead of a predetermined structure the kids are supposed to build, this is an open-ended STEM challenge that encourages kids to get creative in order to solve the problem.
It’s possible that each child will have a different product at the end of the challenge.
You can easily change the level of difficulty by varying the materials you allow them to use.
You might choose to allow younger kids to use the cardboard tubes, wood skewers, yarn, and tape without limits. Or, you may limit them to 1 foot of tape per person/group.
For older kids you could choose to eliminate the cardboard tubes, and even the skewers. You might include a hot glue gun instead of tape. This would encourage them to design something that would be more challenging, using the craft sticks and hot glue to form the main structure.
You could also have students design a wrecking ball that needs to knock smaller objects, like Lego figures, from the cardboard blocks, without disturbing the blocks. This would pose a whole different level of difficulty as they work to get the string length just right on the hanging apple.
Apple Wrecking Ball
When it comes to engineering a wrecking ball with an apple, there are a variety of materials you could use. Below you will find the materials we found most effective, but feel free to substitute as you see fit.
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- Wood Skewers or Small Dowel Rods
- Variety of Cardboard Tubes
- Yarn, Twine, or Heavy String
- Pipe Cleaners (Chenille Sticks)
- Drinking Straws
- Craft Sticks
- Tape & Scissors
- Hot Glue Gun
- Small Cardboard Boxes or Cardboard Blocks (to knock down)
Decide which materials you plan on allowing your child to use, and if you will limit the amount of each item they can use.
As a side note, I had to laugh at myself when we did this challenge.
I left the materials for the wrecking balls on a couple of our kitchen chairs. My daughter took it that the chairs were part of the materials…and designed the idea below, based off the pendulum painting we had done previously.
While the top portion was fairly simplified. I was impressed by how she hung the apple — using the wood skewer to poke a hole through the fruit, and then sticking a straw through the hole so she could thread the yarn through it.
Teaching Kids the Engineering Design Process
If your child isn’t familiar with the engineering design process, this is the perfect time to go over this child-friendly version with them.
- Ask Questions (Identify the problem. What are the constraints?)
- Brainstorm Solutions
- Plan (Draw a picture of your idea. Make a list of materials needed.)
- Create (Build a prototype.)
- Improve (What works? What doesn’t?)
Present the problem to your child. “You need to figure out how to make a wrecking ball, using an apple, that will knock over these blocks.”
Let them know what materials they are allowed to use. Will they be limited in how much tape they can use? If so, they will need to plan wisely!
Give them a few minutes to brainstorm ideas and then sketch down a picture of what they think their finished product will look like.
Then comes the fun part. Give them time to build.
As they build, they may discover their original idea doesn’t work. That’s okay!
Remind them that that is part of the engineering process. They can always change their design if they discover it doesn’t work the way they thought.
Once your child has finished building and troubleshooting, make sure they have plenty of time to demonstrate their wrecking ball.
You could even take the challenge further, and have them make adjustments so it is able to knock down smaller objects (like Lego figures) without knocking down the cardboard blocks. Or, see if their wrecking ball can knock over heavier items.
Once you’ve finished with the apple wrecking ball STEM challenge, try a few of these fall STEM activities:
- Build an Apple Tree
- Make a Pumpkin Pulley
- Pumpkin Sink or Float (perfect for toddlers and preschoolers)
- Pumpkin Volcano
- Vanishing Ghosts
- Build a Candy Tower