Help your kids build spatial skills with easy Rube Goldberg machines

One of the best things on the internet is the series of videos showing Joseph Hercher and his creations. Like any well-designed Rube Goldberg machines, they are functional, but make us laugh at the use of an over-engineered machine to complete a simple task. You don’t need his stamp-licking machine, but you’ll be glad you watched the video.

In the interview, he gives us some insight into what designing these crazy contraptions can do for the mind. He says he has become good at visualizing whether an idea will succeed or fail. In other words, spatial skills.

What better way to build those skills than with practical know-how blended with light-hearted fun? Your kids, too, can create and build their own little absurd inventions that can pour a box of cereal, drop a ball into a cup or pop a balloon. Videos and resources abound on the internet, but here are a few places to get your budding kinetic artists started.

Draw from the original
When you’re getting inspired, be sure and drop in on the official Rube Goldberg website, which offers a wealth of information including a gallery of the original cartoons, a teacher’s curriculum and, if you’re ambitious, contests. Here’s one idea from the classroom curriculum you won’t find posted on a video or blog: Have the kids draw their own Rube Goldberg contraption.


Wood, marbles and magnets
This contraption is really a series of smaller, interconnected marble runs. It demonstrates that elegant design can emerge from the simplest of materials: slender pieces of wood, marbles, magnets, and yes, gravity. If your child is very young, a “run” built with cardboard tubes mounted on the wall with painter’s tape is an engaging but easy Rube Goldberg machine.

Simple machines
What better way to internalize those lessons about pulleys, incline planes and wheels and axels than to build and use them? Begin with a review of the six simple machines, and your child has an excellent launching point when it comes to building an easy Rube Goldberg machine.

lego-trunkLEGO Bricks
Every year, various groups gather to build elaborate contraptions using LEGO Bricks and robotics. There are plenty of kits on the market that help kids design and build a Rube Goldberg-inspired chain reaction, including LEGO Bricks, but toys and household objects that you already own can actually be repurposed in fun ways.

Building with LEGO Bricks in a social setting can give your child some fresh ideas on solving problems that come with testing new designs. Visit to learn more about our programs, which are built around a STEM-based curriculum (science, technology, engineering and math) designed by teachers, engineers and architects.

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