Mini Engineering Challenges

steam activities header

Here we are, once again, on the 2nd Thursday of the month!  I’m not quite sure where March went, to be perfectly honest with you!  But, we did some awesomely fun mini engineering challenges in March… so here are some new ideas for you to try with your little engineers!

apr 9 building w bristle buildersWe love our Bristle Blocks!  If you don’t have a set of these, you can definitely purchase them on Amazon here (Battat Bristle Blocks Basic 112 Piece Set Building Kit – affiliate link, thank you!).  Bristle blocks are fabulous for so many reasons, but Becca really enjoys the way they feel – as a sensory seeker, she will sit and rub these blocks while she’s thinking about where to put them.  They just feel really neat in her hands.  Many times, I just let her build whatever, but sometimes I’ll say “see if you can build a ______” and give her an idea.  It is fabulous to let your little engineer free play with blocks and building materials, but it’s also a wonderful idea to give her a specific task to focus on – it puts her brain into the mode of needing to solve a problem, and figure out how to best complete the task at hand.  So next time you get out the bristle blocks, try some of these fun things as building challenges:

  • boat
  • car
  • house
  • rocket
  • dinosaur
  • school

apr 9 construct a city

Becca loves to build cities.  Who knows, maybe someday she’ll be a civil engineer and work for some large city, or be an architect who designs skyscrapers.  I love that the sky is the limit for her.  And all of the activities we do encourage her to grow and play in new and different ways.  She loves the wooden blocks that my dad made for me when I was a kid, and she plays with them frequently.  (If you see the apples on some of them and wonder about that, check out this post from last fall about our Ten Apples Up on Top activity – she still enjoys doing that, and anytime I mention taking the apples off, she gets very defensive of the apples!  HA!)  But anyway, if your kids don’t have a wonderful set of wooden blocks, there are some fabulous ones available on Amazon – try this set: Melissa & Doug 60-Piece Standard Unit Blocks. (aff link, thank you!)

So when your kiddos are building with their wooden blocks, free, imaginative play is awesome, but you can also take it to a different level by creating a challenge for them – see if they can create a variety of structures.  Becca loves to build towers with her blocks, so I asked her one day, “well, how about if you build a city this time?”  (She typically builds cities only with her Duplos.)  She had so much fun creating roads and buildings and even decided where each person in our family would live and work, where the park and school and church were located… she really got detailed with it!  I would definitely encourage you to play blocks with your kids and challenge them to build a city!  See what fabulous ideas they come up with!

apr 9 creative play with straws

Becca loves straws.  She’s fascinated with them – not only in their function, but also in the various ways she can play with them.  The other day, she decided on her own that we could “probly” make a rainbow with them, but informed me “I’m gonna need some major help.”  So I obliged, gladly!  She knew the rainbow started with red on top, so we found all the red straws and laid them out, then we talked about each color and figured out how to place them inside of each other.  When she was done, she declared “George is the treasure under the rainbow!” and proudly placed him underneath.  That made me smile so big.  This girl has a heart of gold.  And she really does cherish her little friend.

Encourage your little engineer to play with straws.  Remember that building doesn’t always involve making a 3d structure – but also can be a fabulous 2d construction as well.  We’ve made several other straw pictures since then – we’ve built a house, a pirate ship, a dinosaur, some clouds, and an airplane.  I love how so many of the STEAM subject matters overlap each other!  This project is clearly engineering AND art… as is our next idea!

apr 9 mini create a firetruck


I’ve mentioned previously how much Becca LOVES the Amazon show, Creative Galaxy.  She watches it on her Kindle regularly.  She has seen each of the 9 episodes at least 9 times, if not 20.  In one of the shows between the shows (where real kids make art), they use recycled materials to build items.  One of the ideas they mention but don’t build is a fire truck.  So, Becca got it in her head that she wanted to build a fire truck!  She told me the materials she wanted to use to make it, and I obliged.  I held the hot glue gun, but she placed each item where she wanted it, and did the art work to draw the windows and headlights.  She even determined she wanted the ladder to stick up like it was going up to a house to help someone.  So, we figured out how to do the glue so that it would dry sticking up into the air.

I loved so much that she came up with this project on her own, and that I took the time to make it possible for her.  So many times it’s easy for us to hear an idea that our kids have and say there isn’t time, or we don’t have the supplies.  But this was a project that really benefited us both – I was amazed to see what she is capable of and how her brain works, and she was given a confidence boost because Mommy believed in her idea and helped her make it a reality!

What we used: an old puffs container, fruit pouch lids, straws, hot glue, Sharpee marker, scissors (she cut the straws into pieces – fabulous fine motor practice!)

I’d love to see your kids make items from recycled materials!  Please share your finished engineering feats on my Facebook page anytime and label them #engineeringrocks!

Looking for more engineering ideas for your kids?  Each month on the 2nd Thursday I post Mini Engineering Challenges!  Check out my Engineering page for links to my previous months, and visit next month for more new ideas including a Lego game your family is gonna love!

Creating an Obstacle Course for Baby

baby bees header


Grayson is crawling.  EVERYWHERE.  He is into EVERYTHING.  There’s really not a whole lot I can do to slow him down except put up a couple of gates!  HA!  But, since my Big Butterfly seeks a lot of sensory input, I’m always trying to think of new ways to engage BOTH kids.  (Which really isn’t a bad thing!)  They have both really enjoyed using our bean bag, blankets, chair and couch cushions, and pillows to create a crawling obstacle course!  (And the bean bag really slows Grayson down!  He has to work hard to get off of it!)

apr 6 obstacle course


It’s also a great activity for feeling different textures (thus my boy is shirtless).  I noticed when Becca went across the “osticle” course the first couple of times, she was continually rubbing her hands on the different textures.  She absolutely LOVES our couch and chair – they do have a really cool texture – I agree!  So this is a fabulous activity for ANY child with proprioceptive sensory needs!

But it also presents my Baby Bee with a challenge to climb down and up – all in a relatively safe environment where he isn’t going to fall directly onto the hardwood floor.  It took him a good five minutes to get up and down across the whole course.  And then he was off to his next task – he found his Sister’s purse and started chewing on it!  HA!

Setting up an obstacle course like this is a fabulous way to work on those gross motor climbing and crawling skills that are so important to develop in your Baby Bee.  Ironically, I had already planned this post when Jamie from over at Hands On As We Grow shared one of her posts from a while back when she made a couch cushion obstacle course for her Baby Bee.  You’ll want to check out her post – it gives some great ideas for once your crawler has conquered the “basic” obstacle course like I made.  I love her idea of stacking the cushions up to make “stairs” and also adding some balls into the course to chase around and encourage movement and participation!  We’ll be using those ideas in the future as Grayson gets better at climbing, for sure!

Creating a “Quiet Place”

If you’ve been reading my blog or following me on Facebook for any amount of time, you have probably gathered that (if not directly read) Becca has some sensory processing issues.  In all of my research about Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), I have learned that this disorder is so vast and so extremely different from one child to another that it’s super hard to quantify.  I would say on a scale of 1-10, with 1 being barely having SPD or 10 being having severe SPD that totally makes the child unable to function, Becca is probably (on most days) about a 3.  On most days, she does really well.  Especially now that we have identified her needs, and identified her triggers that cause problems.  We can usually head things off at the pass before they become a real issue.

Another thing that has helped her immensely has been having places in our house to call her own.  She is a very independent child who likes to be left alone.  Obviously, not all kids with SPD have this character trait.  But, for those who do, I HIGHLY recommend setting up a very small, cozy spot in the main area of your home as a “Quiet Place.”  The Quiet Place idea was born actually in Cody’s mind, as we struggled with her through mealtimes.  The thought was that if she felt she needed to quiet down, she could go there.  So, our Quiet Place is in our dining room, right next to the table.

quiet place

Wedged between our China hutch, and her little art station, it’s just what the picture shows – a bean bag. SUPER SIMPLE.  We introduced it to her and told her it’s her special “Quiet Place” – a place where she can take a rest anytime she needs to get away.  I truly had no idea if she would really put herself in time out when she needed it.  It was a leap of faith, and honestly, Cody really really gets her in a way that I often don’t… so when he has an idea, I run with it!

This has been a fabulous thing for her.  When we first introduced it, I went to the “Quiet Place” with her and we’d pull a foam puzzle out of her art station and work it together, practicing whispering.  The first few weeks, I had to really encourage her to go over there – “Why don’t you take this book to your Quiet Place?”  Or “Why don’t you take this animal habitat to your Quiet Place?”  Now, if I can’t find her, that’s where she is.  Every. Single. Time.  She has learned that if she just needs to escape whatever situation is bothering her, she can go there.  I love that she finds comfort and shelter when she needs it.

For her, when she has a sensory trigger go off, it doesn’t always instigate a total crying meltdown.  It can start up really hateful behavior, or it can just cause her to completely shutdown.  More than once, I have seen her almost zombie-walk to her Quiet Place, and fall onto the beanbag.  At that point, I turn off ANYTHING that is making noise, and if Grayson is awake, I take him into his room to play, and tell her she can come in when she’s ready before I shut the door.  Usually within 5 minutes, she’s back to normal and joining us again.

Finding what works for your child is a great challenge for ANY parent of ANY child.  But if that child has any sort of special need whatsoever – be it mental, emotional, physical, or dietary, the challenge is so much greater.  It is my hope that as we find things that are consistently successful for her, I can share them with you so that maybe, just maybe our tried-and-true ideas will help someone else.  The bonus about this specific idea is that it’s not a bad idea for any child to have their own “Quiet Place.”  Call it whatever you will, no matter the level of “normal” or “need,” every single child loves to have things to call their own – and their own special place is just the icing on the cake.

Have multiple kids?  Share the idea with them, and have them select what spot (of your pre-selected ideal areas) would be their own.  Over time, you could teach them that they could go there when they are frustrated with a sibling, take time to breathe, and then go back to play.  I could see that seriously cutting down on fights if they were able to pull themselves away in the heat of the moment.  (And with a little training, Becca’s total shutdown zombie-walks tell me that IS possible!)

I hope this idea is helpful – let me know your thoughts!!