This activity is great for introducing kids to engineering because it’s relatively simple and has real-life application. I’ve used K’Nex in my example because it’s a may favourite construction kit, but also because it actually looks like many of the bridges you see around the place every day. However, you can use pretty much anything to make bridges – even paper! Don’t underestimate the strength of folder paper.
Setting the Scene
Yes, this is an important lesson in engineering, but it’s also a game! Make it fun, and your kids will stay engaged longer and may even extend the challenge themselves. You’ll need to find or set up two level surfaces roughly 30cm apart. I’ve used two dining chairs for this blog.
A new ice-cream shop has just opened in Canyon City! But there’s a problem – all of the people live on one side of the canyon, and the shop is on the other side. We need to help them out by building a bridge. The bridge has to support its own weight and not be wobbly (the people of Canyon City don’t like wobbly bridges).
Allow kids some time to explore the materials. I’d recommend sharing some pictures of different types of bridges, to help stimulate their ideas and direct their play. They can then have a go at building some different bridges and testing them out in the scenario.
Always keep the success criteria in mind – the bridge has to support itself and not be wobbly. Top tip: Make sure none of your building materials are long enough to bridge the gap on their own, otherwise it might be a very short game!
Extending the Challenge
Once the children have successfully built a bridge, celebrate the fact that the hungry citizens of Canyon City can now reach their ice-cream! But wait – the store is a long way from their homes and it’s too far to walk. They’ll need to travel by car, which means the bridge needs to be strong enough and wide enough to carry cars.
For this, if you’ve got toy cars you can use, great. The bigger the better, as it presents more of an engineering challenge. If there aren’t any toy cars hanging around, then using building blocks or something similar will work fine.
Bridges may need to be modified to accommodate the size and weight of the toy cars. Cars must be able to “drive” from one end of the bridge to the other without falling off. The bridge still needs to be self-supporting!