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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15 Kid Friendly Destinations in Salt Lake City

Let me start by saying that I was never one to actively look for destinations in Salt Lake City, even though it is like 10 minutes from my house, until I was a stay at home mom. Then, suddenly I wanted to be outside doing stuff rather than on my couch watching Netflix (which is all I ever wanted to do after teaching for ten hours a day).

So, after my son turned one and was a little bit more fun to take on adventures, my husband and I started looking for kid-friendly destinations in Salt Lake City. I was lucky enough to stumble upon a Groupon for a *Salt Lake Connect Pass which has enabled us to go to all kinds of new places this year without breaking the bank.

So, if you find yourself wanting some adventure in your life or if you are planning a trip to SLC, then check out these destinations! My list starts at the center of the city and moves outwards. I have put * next to the places that are on the connect pass.

-As a side note, kids under two are free at many of these places so if, like me, you have a one-year-old, now is the time to try them and see what is worth going back to later.

Temple Square

City Creek Center

  • Address: 50 Main St. Salt Lake City, UT 84150
  • This is an outdoor/indoor mall and is free to visit. It has a creek running throughout and is the home to many shops, restaurants, and retailers. It is directly across the street from Temple Square and is easily accessible by Trax.
  • Huge underground parking complex that is free for the first two hours (2017).
  • List of Restaurants
  • List of Stores
  • My one-year-old’s favorite things are the centrally located splash pad and fountain, walking along the indoor creek, getting a free balloon from the Nordstrom’s kid section, and crossing the covered see-through bridge from one side of the street to the other.

*Discovery Gateway

  • Address: 444 W 100 S, Salt Lake City, UT, 84101
  • Admission and Parking Information
  • This place is perfect for kids. My one-year-old loved it but so did my fourth and fifth graders. There are several sections of the museum and many learning through play opportunities.

*Clark Planetarium

  • Address: 110 S 400 W, Salt Lake City, UT, 84101
  • Admission and Parking Information
  • This one is a bit over the head of my one-year-old but he does like to wander around and look at the different exhibits.

Memory Grove Park

  • Address: 300 North Canyon Road, Salt Lake City, UT 84103
  • No admission this is a city owned park.
  • This park is kind of famous for being ideal for photography. It has a beautiful stream, greenery, pillars, scenic buildings, etc.
  • My one-year-old mostly likes to walk through it and look at the water. But it is a great scenic area for a walk and/or a picnic.

Utah State Capitol

  • Address: 350 North State Street, 120 State Capitol, Salt Lake City, UT 84114
  • This is a public building so there are no admissions, however, if you want to see everything, you may want to book a tour.
  • Parking Information
  • I have not taken my one-year-old here yet but have visited many times with my family and students. Depending on the age of your kids, you may want to prep them with a virtual tour or an activity sheet to help them get more out of being there.
  • For older kids (and adults) I highly recommend visiting while the legislature is in session.

*The Leonardo

  • Address: 209 East 500 South, Salt Lake City, UT 84111
  • Admissions and Parking Information
  • I personally found the website for the Leo super confusing but it has been one of my favorite places to visit. It is perfect for adults and kids older than two or three. I did not take my one-year-old when we went there and I thought that that was a good call.
  • Just know that the many of the exhibits change regularly, most of the museum is very interactive, and there are often extra things going on (I participated in a pie eating contest when I was there). So, check out the calendar on their website so you can pick a day that you want to go.

Liberty Park

  • Address: 600 E 900 S, Salt Lake City, UT 84105
  • No admission to the park itself, however, there are things in the park that require money if you want to participate (Tracy Aviary, paddleboat rentals, concessions, and rides).
  • There is a lot to do and see in this 100-acre park. Some of our favorites are Tracy Aviary (see below), the playgrounds, the splash pad, the lake, and the other water features.

*Tracy Aviary

  • Address: 5 East 1300 S, Salt Lake City, UT 84105
  • Admission Information
  • Free parking directly outside of the aviary.
  • My son loves this place but he is a little bit obsessed with birds. There is a fun bird show (about 30 minutes), several indoor exhibits, and many outdoor areas as well, there is also a playground and a river. This is definitely worth going to if you have small bird lovers.
  • Wednesdays are usually free in the winter months but check before you go.

*Red Butte Gardens

  • Address: 300 Wakara Way, Salt Lake City, UT 84108
  • Admission Information
  • Free Parking right outside the entrance
  • We love just walking through the gardens, they are spacious, gorgeous, and full of water features, plants, flowers, and animals (specifically fish, squirrels, chipmunks, and birds, though I once saw a bobcat).
  • There are many paved trails but there are also areas that look more like real mountain trails. You can also walk back into the canyon or play in the water features in the children’s garden.
  • Information on Summer Concerts at Red Butte

*Natural History Museum of Utah

  • Address: 301 Wakara Way (literally right next to Red Butte Gardens), Salt Lake City, UT 84108
  • Admission Information
  • Free Parking and Overflow Parking
  • Content/exhibit wise this museum is great for older kids and adults. However, my baby loved walking through it and seeing the fake animals, dinosaur bones, and other exhibits. He also enjoyed digging for bones, playing in the erosion tank, and exploring the children’s room on the bottom floor.
  • As a side note, there is access to the Bonneville Shoreline trail right outside of the museum. If the weather is good and you are prepared it can provide a nice walk or hike. The Living Room trail is quite popular.

*This is the Place Heritage Park

  • Address: 2601 E Sunnyside Ave, Salt Lake City, UT 84108
  • Admission Information
  • Free parking
  • This place offers many activities and a lot of historical experiences including a treasure house,  pony rides, train rides, hiking, a Native American village, and more. My one year old liked walking the streets and seeing the animals.

*Hogle Zoo

  • Address: 2600 Sunnyside Avenue (across the street from Heritage Park), Salt Lake City, UT 84108
  • Admission Information
  • I am not personally a fan of zoos but my little boy loves them. This zoo is not super huge but it is big enough to explore for several hours depending on how much time you spend on each animal.
  • During the winter it usually offers free days if you are willing to bundle your little guys up and brave the cold. In the past, they have been the last Wednesdays of November, December, January, and February but you will want to look that up before you go.

Seven Peaks

  • Address: 1200 W 1700 S, Salt Lake City, UT 84104
  • Admissions Information but if you are going to go more than once then just jump through the hoops and get a Pass of all Passes. These can often be purchased for even less if you go through third party websites like Groupon or CityDeals and use current coupon codes which are easy to google (valpak often works on CityDeals).
  • A parking pass costs 10-20 dollars depending on where you purchase it. However, there is a public park across the street (no crosswalk). Do with that information what you will.
  • This park is a bit of a mess. As an adult, I looked at it and thought that it was in pretty sad shape. As a kid, I didn’t notice any of the less desirable qualities and thought it was awesome. My one-year-old loves playing in the kiddy area and the wave pool and the lazy river. He thinks it is a great time and with the Pass of all Passes we can just go for an hour or two and not feel bad, I think it is cheaper than most rec centers.
  • They do have a no food policy and charge for tube rentals. My advice would be to go with very low standards and know that your kids will probably have a great time.


Whew, that’s my list. It is by no means a comprehensive list but it does comprise all of the kid-friendly destinations in Salt Lake City that I can personally vouch for.

*The Connect Pass includes several other destinations not in Salt Lake City but in Salt Lake County. The ones on my list are all within the city itself.

My question for you is, what family friendly activities would you add to my Salt Lake City list?

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