How to make things with plastic straws

Written by david pepper
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Kids bored? Glued to the TV? Need a rainy day project that will engage their imaginations and help their motor skills? Plastic straws can be your answer! Plastic straws are cheap, easily available, nontoxic and safe. Using some commonly available household items, your kids not only can have hours of fun, but also learn a little about geometry and engineering as well.

Skill level:
Moderate

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Things you need

  • Plastic straws
  • pipe cleaners
  • paper clips
  • masking tape
  • scissors
  • cardboard
  • golf ball

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Instructions

  1. 1

    Start your kids' plastic straw building adventure by challenging them to make two simple shapes: a square and a triangle. Straws can be joined with masking tape or by inserting bent paper clips or pipe cleaners into the ends of the straws to be joined.

  2. 2

    Next, challenge the children to turn their square and triangle into a cube and a pyramid. When finished, encourage the kids to squash the shapes between two books to demonstrate the inherent strength of building with triangles.

  3. 3

    Try to make a tower strong enough to support a golf ball. The tower should be at least three levels high. The tower can be made out of cubes or triangles. If made out of cubes, try reinforcing the sides of the cubes with a diagonal crossbar to add strength. Have a contest to see who can make the tallest tower.

  4. 4

    Have the kids try their hand at making a simple beam bridge strong enough to roll the golf ball over. Make a road bed out of cardboard, and make bridge supports by making "beams" of straws bundled together for strength.

  5. 5

    Beam bridge too basic? Reinforce the beam bridge with triangular trusses to increase its strength. Combine two towers, string and a cardboard roadbed to make a suspension bridge. Or enter the bridge building contest sponsored by the American Society of Mechancial Engineers.

Tips and warnings

  • Use the Internet to show the kids pictures of different types of bridges and towers, and discuss how they're constructed.
  • Make sure you buy old-fashioned "straight" plastic straws. The "flexy" straws introduce a weak spot that will have to be cut off.

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