The Build Box: Fostering Engineering Skills in Kids

Promoting engineering skills and thought processes in little people is not as complicated as the word engineering might lead you to believe. Before I had my son I worked as a science camp teacher for several years. Many of my classes were full of preschoolers and they had some of the best ideas I have seen.  

Then, as an elementary teacher, I  taught various after school classes that had to do with various aspects of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) including a MESA class for girls, Tech 101, Beginner Art, Beginner STEM, Science Time, etc. These were some of my favorite after school classes because I loved seeing what the kids were capable of engineering.

One teaching tool for engineering that I found worked particularly well for four-year-olds all the way up to 14-year-olds was a Build Box.

What is a Build Box

A Build Box is a box full of engineering supplies that kids are free to use as they need. The box is accompanied by an objective and some requirements to help kids get going. As I used build boxes in my jobs, I found that many kids were inspired by the stuff in the boxes as well as the idea that they could take and use what they needed.

Creating a Build Box will require some up front spending but you can make a fairly decent one for under twenty dollars if you visit the dollar store and save your recyclables.

What is in a Build Box?

Build boxes are full of lots of good stuff. Below I have a list of the items I used to use. However, what you can put in them varies greatly. The amount and types of items you will need depend on the ages of the kids you are making it for as well as the size of the group.

*Supplies for older kids

Get a Box (I recommend getting a large plastic one with a lid so it is easy to store when not in use).

  • Tape (this one is super important especially if your kids are little)
    • *Duct tape
    • Scotch tape
    • Masking tape
  • Glue
    • Glue sticks
    • White glue
    • *Glue gun
  • *Stapler
  • Scissors
  • Rulers
  • String, thread, yarn, fishing line, etc.
  • *Toothpicks
  • Popsicle sticks/Tongue depressors
  • Bobby Pins
  • Rubber bands
  • *Safety Pins
  • Paper Clips
  • Brads
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Buttons
  • Clothespins
  • Straws
  • Clay
  • Dowels
  • Foam
  • Paper plates
  • Paper cups (several sizes)
  • Paper Bowls
  • Printer Paper
  • Newspaper
  • Cardstock
  • Construction Paper
  • Cardboard 
    • I saved empty food boxes (cereal, crackers, macoroni, etc.) The thinner the cardboard is, the easier it is for kids to cut it.
  • Containers
    • Egg cartons
    • Cylindrical containers (I wash out cottage cheese, sour cream, peanut butter, and yogurt containers instead of recycling them)
    • Rinsed out milk Jugs
    • Other interestingly shaped containers you might otherwise recycle
  • Colored markers
  • *Permanent markers
  • Pencils
  • Graph Paper

Rules for a Build Box

I used these rules whether I gave everyone an objective or not. Often they created their own objectives but I did ask them to have an idea of what they were doing before they started. Looking over the materials available and doing some hard core thinking can go a long way.

  • Preschoolers – Third Grade
    1. Know what your objective is.
      • What are you going to make?
      • What will it do?
    2. Make a plan
      • Draw your ideas on a piece of paper.
    3. Decide what you think you will need.
      • Write down, draw a picture of, or tell an adult what you are making and what you will need.
    4. Start engineering (building)
  • Fourth Grade – Seventh Grade
    1. Know your objective and rules.
      • What are you going to make?
      • What is its purpose?
      • What requirements must it meet?
    2. Make a plan (pencils and graph paper)
      • Draw your ideas.
      • Don’t be afraid to write how it will work and what you need to do.
    3. Make a supply list.
      • Write down a list of the supplies that you think you will need.
    4. Engineer it.
      • Troubleshoot and adjust your plan as needed.
      • Take notes.

Build Box Objective Ideas

Ideas and objectives for build boxes are endless. Here are a few examples to get you started. They are easy to modify and come up with based on age and personal interest.

  1. Objective: Engineer a bridge between two chairs.
    • Requirements:
      • The bridge must be at least 12 inches long.
      • The bridge must be able to support at least two paper back books (or one pound, or a certain toy, etc.)
  2. Objective: Engineer a model building that can be placed on a chair or table.
    • Requirements:
      • The building can only be made of four materials.
      • The building must be at least 12 inches tall.
      • The building must be able to remain in place even if someone shakes the table.
  3. Objective: Engineer a toy.
    • Requirements:
      • The toy must have a purpose.
      • The toy must withstand being dropped from 4 feet.
      • The toy must have a name.

For worksheets to help you with this process and more objective ideas, subscribe to Mommy Practice and gain access to my library of learning supplies.

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What are you and your kids going to engineer with your build box?

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