Maker Family Challenges!

We have been hosting some fun open-ended programs that the whole family can do together which can easily be replicated at home.

Build a Boat

Can you build a boat that floats? Use recycled materials, things from outside, and whatever else you can dream of. Take it further by trying to build a boat out of heavy materials, have the boat carry something, or put the boat in running water.

Things to think about:

What is Buoyancy?
Boats, canoes, ships, kayaks, and rafts all have one thing in common- they are used for transport on seas and rivers, because they float.  It’s easy to figure out that if they are made out of wood they will float, because wood floats in water. However, when you see a huge cargo ship or a cruise-liner that looks like a floating building on the water, you can’t help but wonder why this massive chunk of metal doesn’t sink.

The Archimedes principle
A long time ago in ancient Greece, a mathematician named Archimedes was taking a bath. When he got in, a certain amount of water got displaced and overflowed over the rim of the tub. Archimedes figured out that if the weight of the object being placed in the water is less that the weight of the water displaced, the object will float. This is known as buoyancy or the Archimedes principle.

How ships float
A ship made out of metal is able to remain lighter than the amount of water it displaces, because it is not a complete solid. The very bottom of the ship, called the hull, is hollow and therefore adds support to the ship without adding any mass.
When a ship is fully loaded, there is a maximum amount of weight it can carry before the weight of the ship increases past the amount of water it displaces.

Egg Drop

Using materials you find around the house, can you make a wrapping that will protect an egg when dropped from a great height (ie your window? Your stairs? A tree?)?

Things to think about:

What is Gravity?
Gravity is a powerful force that has a fundamental impact on the way we live our lives. Even walking, which we take for granted, is not possible without gravity. Gravity provides the necessary downward force on our bodies which creates friction between our feet and the ground, allowing us to walk (push our body weight forward with one leg and then the other).

When other forces are combined with gravity, such as motion (the movement of an object), inertia (the tendency of an object to resist change with regard to movement based on its mass), or power (the ability to exert energy over time), it may be impossible to prevent an impact which will cause damage.

Force = Mass times acceleration. The egg will accelerate based on the pull of gravity. How much it accelerates depends on the height from which the egg was dropped and the mass of the egg and protector. Force will increase with larger masses and higher heights.

What is momentum?
Momentum is a measure of an object’s tendency to move at constant speed along a straight path. Momentum depends on speed and mass.

What is acceleration?
Acceleration is how much your speed changes in a certain amount of time. 

What is impact?
Impact is the high force (or shock) applied over a short period of time when 2 or more objects collide (like an egg and the floor). The effect depends on the relative velocity (or speed).

Family Self Portraits

Using collage or other art materials, capture an image of yourself. Then, cut out your art piece out and put it together with your family's images to create a portrait of everyone! Supplies could include scraps of paper, pencils, pens, mirrors, glue, and more.

Things to think about

What is a self- portrait?
A self-portrait is an artistic representation of yourself! Who do you think you are? Who do other people see you as? What are some things that inspire you? 

What is collage?
Collage is the technique of using images or materials that are pre-made and arranging them any way you like! Examples are: cutting pictures out of a magazine or book, ripping or cutting colorful paper, etc.

Duct Tape Lunch Box

Make a Duct Tape Lunch Box!
Make a Duct Tape Lunch Box!


Duct tape (2 colors if using a contrasting color for the edges)
Print Two copies of the Lunchbox Template
1 X 1 inch piece of Self-sticking Velcro

1. Print two pieces of the template. Fold along all edges that say "fold." 
2. Tape the two template pieces together in the middle with scotch tape.
3. Place strips of duct tape on BOTH sides of the template. One side should be in a contrasting color for the inside of the lunch box. ape the other roll to the first roll, with the aluminum foil on the end and the filter in between the rolls.
4. Stand your lunch box up so that you can tape up the sides with one long strip for each side. Tape along the bottom edge with your contrasting color, if you've chosen one.
5. Place your piece of self-sticking Velcro along the middle on both side of your lunch box.
6. Pack your lunch in your DIY Duct Tape Lunch Box!

Draw a self-portrait

Image from Wikipedia
Image from Wikipedia

Questions to ask before you begin

  • What about yourself do you want to express?
  • Do you want to add fantasy elements, go abstract (using shapes or colors to represent real things) or keep it realistic like a photo?
  • What are your surroundings? Where do you wish you were?
  • Who inspires you as an artist?
  • How can you use your supplies to portray yourself? What’s your favorite medium to work in?

Set up a comfortable workspace

Make sure you have a good light source and that your drawing surface is near vertical, because on a flat surface, the drawing can “get away from you” and become distorted. An inexpensive table easel and a clip-on light are great for this. Just make sure you can sit comfortably for a while and settle in, and it's not uncomfortable to look in the mirror.

Start with a light sketch

Start with a light outline. When you really study the human face, its easy to realize that the eyes are not near the top of the head, they are more about half-way between the crown of the head and your chin. Lightly draw the major features - your eyes, nose, mouth, and ears - first, to create a foundation so you can add in your details later. This way, if you make a mistake, you can easily erase it and it won't affect the minute details you will spend more time creating later on.  

Gradually work your way into a detailed drawing. Don’t go for broke on drawing a realistic eye for instance, and then move on. Your whole drawing should be at the same level of development at all times - draw everything softly first and then move to darker lines and shading. This helps you to keep thinking about the big picture, instead of focusing on the small stuff.

Do your hairline after you outline

Start with the head and work out the proper length. Fill in with thick lines, then add shadowing and highlights as you go along.


Try, try again!

Let’s be honest. There are no shortcuts to becoming a great artist. It may be a cliché, but that old adage about success being “99% perspiration” is absolutely true.

Practice, practice, practice is the name of the game. We can only learn through mistakes, and every mistake, once identified, is a step toward a better self-portrait.


Adapted from

Build a Camera Obscura!

Image from Flickr user Afroboof
Image from Flickr user Afroboof

2 paper rolls (recycled toilet paper rolls work!)
Duct tape
Aluminum foil
Coffee filters

1. Cut out a square of aluminum foil to cover the bottom of one of the rolls. Tape it on so that it is flat and smooth, and then put a pinhole in the middle of it using the thumbtack.
2. Cut out a piece of coffee filter that to cover the other side of the roll. Tape it on.
3. Tape the other roll to the first roll, with the aluminum foil on the end and the filter in between the rolls.
4. Cover the outside of the rolls with aluminum foil to make sure no light gets in (don’t cover the pinhole!). That may include taping over the ends a little bit.
5. Take your camera obscura outside (if it’s not too cold), or just look out the window when the sun is up (if it’s dark, it won’t work!). Cup one of your hands around the open end of the camera obscura and put it up to your eye.
6. You will see a shadowy reflection of what’s outside, except upside down! You can even make one of these out of a dark room!

Light travels in a straight line and when some of the rays reflected from a bright subject (ie outside) pass through a small hole in thin material (ie aluminum foil) they do not scatter but cross and reform as an upside down image on a flat surface held parallel to the hole (ie the coffee filter).


Here are some alternative ways to make them!

Sew n' Glow - LED bracelets!

Image from ATX DIY
Image from ATX DIY

Adapted from


  • Sew-On Snaps- Make sure they are metal and not coated with paint, they need to conduct electricity.  Magnetic snaps would also work
  • Needle – Needs to have a relatively small head
  • Conductive Thread –thinner is better
  • Strip of Felt – or any sewable, non-conductive material or fabric—felt is easy because you don’t have to hem!
  • LED – 10 mm work
  • Surface Mount Battery Holder
  • CR2032 Lithium 3Volt Battery
  • Permanent marker – Preferably a colored one.
  • Lighter – Optional, for burning ends of thread, I suppose a match would also work.
  • Round Nose Pliers
  • Scissors – for clipping thread
  • Needle threader


The main thing is to make sure your stitches are nice and even, tightly pulled, and not tangled.

1. CHECK THE LED: Identify the positive lead (the little wires that look like legs on the LED are the leads) – it’s the longer of the two wires.  Now find the positive side of the battery (it should be labeled with a +).  Place the LED over the battery so that the positive lead is touching the positive side of the battery, and the negative lead is touching the negative side of the battery.  The LED should light up – if not, your battery might be dead, your LED might be bad (not very likely), or you’re doing it wrong (make sure the leads are only touching the corresponding side of the battery and not accidentally touching the opposite side).

2. Mark the long leg (the positive side) with a permanent marker.  Bend the legs of the LED using the pliers into little mustache curly-cues using the needle nose pliers.  

3.  Cut about 36 inches of conductive thread off.  Double thread your needle with a length (about 36 inches) of conductive thread and tie a knot at the end using both ends of the thread.

4. Measure your wrist using the felt.  Mark where you would want the snap to go with a marker - the marks should be on opposite sides of the felt.

5. Place your LED in the middle of the felt cuff (on the top side) and begin sewing it on working only with the positive lead (the one you marked).  Loop up through the circle a number of times being careful to pull your thread tightly in order to create a good connection between the LED and the conductive thread.  Make sure you’re sewing tight and not getting too tangled—the conductive thread tangles easily.  Pull tight carefully, checking that it’s not caught on anything!

6. Once you’ve stitched around the positive side of the LED, begin stitching out towards the end of the felt.  Use a simple straight stitch.  Sew until you get about 1 inch away from where you want the snap to go, and point your stitches downwards.

7. Flip the bracelet over and put your needle through.  Start stitching through the hole in the battery holder closest to the positive side.  Stitch up and down through the hole and the felt until it’s secure (you’ll probably only be able to pass the needle through two or three times as the hole is very small).  Again, make sure that your stitches are tight and that the thread makes good contact with the metal tab on the battery holder.

8. Tie a secure knot in the thread and clip your thread leaving a tiny tail.   You’ve just connected the positive side of the LED to the positive side of the battery holder!

9. SEWING THE NEGATIVE SIDE OF THE BATTERY HOLDER TO THE SNAP: Tie a knot at the end of your thread (or thread and knot a new length of conductive thread if you have less than a foot left).

10.  Stitch the other side (negative) of the battery holder to the felt.  Just like before, make sure your stitches are making good connections with the metal tab and you’ll probably only be able to get your needle through the hole a few times. 

11. Once the negative side of battery holder is securely stitched, stitch a few stitches out to the end of the felt.  This is where you’ll sew in one side of the snap.

12.  Take one side of the snap (I used the pointy side that pops into the hole side) and stitch it to the felt. The snap will act at the switch for your circuit – when it is connected, electricity will pass through both sides of the snap and make the circuit complete.  When the snap is disconnected, the circuit isn’t complete and electricity can’t flow through all the components.   Like always, make sure to stitch the snap in carefully, creating a tight connection between the thread and the metal snap.  Clip the end of the thread, leaving a short tail.

13. SEWING THE NEGATIVE LEAD TO THE OTHER SNAP: Thread a new length of conductive thread, making a knot in the end.  Go back to the middle of your cuff – now you’ll be sewing the negative side of the LED out to the other end of your cuff.

14.  Stitch up through the negative circle on the LED (remember, that’s the one that is not marked) and loop up and down through the felt and the LED legs a few times.

15. Now, stitch out to the other end of your cuff.  Stop when you’ve reached the point where the other snap should go so that your cuff will fit your wrist.

16.  Begin stitching the other side of the snap to the cuff – Make sure you are stitching it to the front (LED side) of the cuff.
Stitch the snap in securely and clip your thread.

17.  Now you can snap the battery into the holder.  The battery is labeled – one side with a + the other with a – .  In the SparkFun battery holders, the + side of the battery needs to face up.  Slide the battery in and push it in place.


When the snaps on your cuff are connected, the LED should light up.
If not - check the following things:
Is your battery dead?
Is your battery installed correctly in the holder (+ side facing up)?
Are all of your connections good (sometimes you have to jiggle things a little)?
Is your snap conductive and well connected?
Is the positive leg of the LED sewn to the positive side of the battery holder?
Is the negative side of the LED sewn to a snap that, when connected, is sewn to the negative side of the battery holder?
Make sure there aren’t any crossed or disconnected threads.

Make mini-zine!


• paper
• scissors
• art supplies to draw or write with
• photocopier
• your eyes, brains, and hands!

Think about your objective or reason for making the zine. Are you trying to make one that inspires people to do something? Teaches your reader something you know? Tells them a story? Here are some ideas:
• How to do something (what do you know how to do?)
• Make a story by picking a picture out of the bag.
• Tell a story about something that happened to you this summer.
• Give a book or movie review.


1. Grab a 8.5 x 11” paper.

2. Fold it into 8 parts - ie in half, then in half, then in half again

3. Unfold it

4. Using the image below, write your book and draw in it.

5. When finished, fold your paper in half hamburger style.

6. Make a cut on the “spine” side of the paper that goes half way through - to the long fold.

7. Unfold the paper flat and then fold it hotdog style.

8. Stand it upright so the cut is making a diamond on the top of the paper.

9. Grab the paper on both sides of the diamond and join them so the diamond becomes an arrow.

10. Collapse the fold so it lies flat on the table, and then fold it closed so your cover is on the front!



Make's post on zines

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Zines for Kids

Banana Tattoos

• Giant pushpins (or normal ones)
• Bananas

Grab a fresh banana (one not too brown or old).  Either cut out a stencil or thing you want to trace and start tracing making small holes in the banana skin (don’t go too deep!), or just start poking holes in the shape you want to make. Watch as the dots magically turn brown!

What’s happening:
As you can see from the illustration above, when bananas turn brown their cells are oxidizing – the oxygen in the air is reacting with chemicals in the banana skin.  It’s the same thing that happens to apples or rusty metal, and is why the Statue of Liberty is green instead of bronze colored.  When we are tattooing the banana, we are oxidizing certain cells – releasing the chemicals that turn the skin brown by breaking the cell walls with our pushpins.

Recycled Paper Notebooks

- paper cut to the size you want
- paper for your spine
- cover paper (slightly heavier and decorated)
- collage supplies - old magazines, foam letters, stamps, colored pencils, etc
- glue (Elmers)
- clothes pins or binder clips
- paintbrush (an old one)

1. Grab as many pieces of paper you want in your notebook.
2. Shuffle all the papers around aligned as accurately as possible on the left edge (the covers too).
3. Attach clips/pins to short sides near the spine so they hold the book together.
4. Place your notebook between two books so that the spine and the clips are all that shows. Use these books to hold your book together as you glue.
6. Paint glue on the spine with your brush.
7. Wait a couple seconds and add second layer of glue.
8. Keep squeezing it all together with your fingers and move glue that squirts out around the spine with your brush.
9. When the glue is dryish, take the clips off.
10. Press the notebook between wax paper sheets, lay it on the table, and palce heavy books on top and leave for 10-30 minutes until it’s totally dry.
11. Decorate your cover plate - you’ll glue this on later. Check if your notebook is totally dry.
13. When it’s dry, fold the spine cover over your book with the spine in the middle as much as you can.
14. Take it off and make sure the creases are right.
15. Paint glue on spine paper – especially the edges and center.
16. Press it on the spine.
17. Glue your cover plate on and you’re good to go!

Squishy Circuits

Squishy Circuits Kit 
Conductive and insulating dough



Walk through the circuit basics lesson plan.

Step 1: Insert the 2 leads from the battery pack into 2 pieces of conductive dough, separated by a lump of insulating dough (we recommend using food coloring to differentiate the doughs—our purple dough is conductive and white dough is insulating).

Step 2: Insert an LED so its anode (long lead) is in the positive battery lump, and its cathode (short lead) is in the negative battery lump. It will light up!

Warning: always attach LEDs to the dough. Never attach them directly to the battery pack, as running too much current through components can damage them, possibly causing them to overheat or pop.



There are a variety of video tutorials provided by University of St. Thomas School of Engineering.

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Spaghetti Bridges

Dry spaghetti (other straight, thick pastas, such as Linguini, would also work)
Marshmallows (try large and small sizes for different types of connections!


Step 1: Make two triangles with the spaghetti.    Connect the three sides of the triangle with three marshmallows at the corners. Stick the spaghetti into the marshmallows so that the triangle stays together.

Step 2: Place three piece of spaghetti into the three marshmallows going upward and away from the triangle. Form a pyramid and bring the spaghetti together at the center. Use a fourth marshmallow to keep the shape of the pyramid. Do the same with the second triangle so there are two pyramids.

Step 3: Stick one raw spaghetti in the marshmallow at the top of one pyramid. Bring the second pyramid close enough to place the other side of the spaghetti piece into the second pyramid. Check that all of the spaghetti pieces are tightly pressed into the marshmallows so that it will not come out.

Step 4:  Repeat as many times as it takes to span a distance with your bridge!



An index of famous bridges

Building Big: Bridges

How Stuff Works: Bridges

Bridge Basics


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