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STEM Activity: Invent Something from Nothing

STEM Activities

Doing nothing often feels like a guilty pleasure, but not in January! In honor of this month’s Nothing Day on Jan. 16 and Kid Inventor Day on Jan. 17, let’s remove the guilt and discover how you can invent something from nothing. Simply coming up with an idea can be its own interesting challenge. You can even get started at the dinner table or while waiting at a stoplight!


Materials Needed

  • Clay or play dough
  • Craft items (e.g., patterned paper, fabric scraps, stickers)
  • Drawing materials (crayons, markers, pencils)
  • Paper
  • Recyclables (e.g., cardboard, plastic containers) or other unused objects around the house
  • Tape and/or glue


Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Take turns filling in the blanks to complete the sentence:

    I wish I had a ______ that could _____ .

    If you need help getting started, fill in the first blank with an object, such as a toy.

    I wish I had a scooter that could _____.
    I wish I had a ball that could ______.
    I wish I had a watch that could ______.
  2. Pick your favorite idea and imagine some of the details. Then, take it one step further and sketch how it might look.
  3. Make a model in your mind or gather some handy materials from around your home (e.g., cardboard box, juice containers) — nothing fancy necessary. In fact, check out what these collegiate inventors used to make their prototype (model).

That’s it! This is all it takes to invent something from nothing! Keep brainstorming and using common objects in new ways to turn nothing into something special. Need more inspiration? Check out this video from Mighty Minds winner Mya Sewell! 


What Are We Discovering?

Any product on store shelves started with an idea. Ideas can range from wild and impractical to realistic and useful. An example of this is National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF) Inductee Steve Sasson’s “Do Nothing” box. When he was a child, Sasson built a box with lights that flashed. He showed it to his father who asked what it did, and Sasson responded, “nothing.” It became known as the “Do Nothing” box, but the process of turning the idea into a prototype and then sharing it was significant. Taking his ideas to the next level helped make Sasson a patented inventor best known for inventing the digital camera. To hear more about the “Do Nothing” box, check out this video. At NIHF, we believe people of all ages can be inventors. Explore our education programs available in school, at home, in college and beyond.


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