Macaroni Kid STEM: 10 Paper Engineering Challenges for Kids

All you need is paper, tape, and scissors to participate in these head-to-head STEM challenges

By Sarah Hauge, publisher of Macaroni KID Englewood, Greenwood Village, Centennial, Colo. July 5, 2024

One of my summer must-haves for kids is a "Big Ideas Bin," a box full of paper, tape, and a pair of scissors. 

That's it! 

It's incredible to see how creative kids can get with just these three simple resources. The one rule I have for this bin is that I only fill it up once per summer, so my kids have to self-monitor what's available. Most often, the supplies are used in a free-for-all fashion, but every now and then I switch things up with a design challenge.

Here are 10 tried-and-true paper engineering challenges that have been fun and engaging for my own kids:

1. Chain Challenge

Using a small (6"x8") rectangular sheet of paper, cut strips and loop the paper with tape to form links in a paper chain. The participant who can make the longest chain with a single sheet of paper wins.

2. Airplane Challenge

Using a single sheet of paper — of any size — design a paper airplane and toss it through the air. See who can fly theirs the farthest or who can get theirs to land closest to a specific target.

3. Penny Bridge Challenge

Using a single sheet of cardstock paper, create a bridge that will span between two items (such as a stack of books). Add pennies, one by one, until the paper bridge collapses. The participant whose bridge can hold the heaviest stack of pennies wins.

4. Index Card Challenge

Using just a single index card, cut a hole that is large enough for a person to fit through. The paper must form a continuous loop. No tape allowed. Is it possible? It sure is! See our step-by-step solution and prepare to wow your friends!

5. Egg Drop Challenge

Using just 3 sheets of standard printer paper, create a vessel to safely transport an egg from a vertical height of 10+ feet. For younger participants, you can increase the allowable materials and/or lower the drop height.

6. Column Challenge

Using a single sheet of paper, create paper columns. Arrange your columns and see how many books will stack before the columns buckle. 

7. Marble Track Challenge

Using a single sheet of 12x12-inch cardstock paper, create a marble track that can be taped to a wall. The participant who can successfully make marble travel the farthest distance wins. 

8. Skyscraper Challenge

Using just 3 sheets of paper, see who can create the tallest, free-standing structure. Increase the difficulty of this challenge by requiring each structure to hold a designated object at the peak.

9. Fashion Challenge

Decide on a paper limit and design a wearable piece of fashion. Walk the runway to show off your work. 

10. City Challenge

Decide on a paper limit and recreate a building in your neighborhood. Arrange all the buildings together to make a paper city.

Sarah Hauge is the publisher of Macaroni KID Englewood, Greenwood Village, Centennial, Colo.