5 fun hands-on, homemade summer projects with kids

What can you build with materials found around the house? Here are just a few fun building challenges that leave plenty of space for variation and creative touches you can try with the kids this summer. 

Go fly a kite

Paper and plastic bags can be easily converted into an air vessel. After the test flight, challenge your kids to find solutions to make their creations stronger in those stiff, high-elevation winds.  

For starters, this super simple design uses a shopping bag, straws and tape. Then you venture into more complex designs and materials, such as this box kite. Or how about this funky pyramid kite that was envisioned by Thomas Edison as a possible flying machine? Then try designing one that can lift a secure object. A weather kite, for example, can carry weather instruments that record data in flight. When it comes to kites, the sky’s the limit!

Anchors aweigh on milk cartons

Because beverage containers are designed to hold liquid, they make excellent building blocks for a boat that really floats. If you do a little online research, you’ll see people have come up with some amazing creations that are sure to fill an enriching weekend or two.

Ask friends, neighbors and co-workers to save their single-serving beverage bottles and put together an open kayak. (Just make sure the kids are supervised and safe during the test run.) Or, ask the kids to save the pint-sized milk cartons from school and test a few designs. If a milk carton race is coming to your town, you’ll be well prepared! 

Instant landscape

Bottle planters hold many other possibilities for your kids to design, plant and maintain a little garden of their own. Build a vertical garden using plastic beverage bottles and an old pallet. (If you’re not sure where to find an old pallet, ask at the garden center or any independently owned business in your neighborhood.)

Pro tip: For efficient watering, stack the bottles on top of each other so water can drain from the mouthpiece and into the plant below. If you have a smaller yard in an urban space, you can also string up the bottles to dress up a privacy fence or a blank wall.

Outdoor movie theater

Older kids will get a kick out of being involved with this fun backyard update that puts their budding engineering and technology skills to work: Screen movies outside using a bedsheet as a screen.

Before you begin, identify possible problems and explore the solutions. How can you make the sheet more opaque? How can you tighten the screen? Be sure and talk about enhancing the sound system, and what can be done to keep people comfortable during an insect attack at nightfall. Have them design beverage holders that keep bottles and cups upright on the lawn, and you’ll be all set for the big show! 

Feed the birds

When kids have a hand in building a homemade bird feeder, they’ll keep an eye out to see if the birds “like” their creations. Make dried apple rings and spread with natural peanut butter, pressing the sticky side into a container of birdseed. Then, hang from a low branch and watch what happens. You’ll also want to add a bird bath, which can be built with found and on-hand materials. For example, this simple and artful design uses branches and shallow bowls. 

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