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STEM Activities

STEM Activity: Creating Classic Toys

The yo-yo is a timeless, classic toy that can provide hours of fun. Can you think of other classic toys that are still around today? Follow the steps below to create two that are sure to bring some joy in and out of your home!


Activity #1: DIY Paddleball

Materials Needed

  • Art materials (paint, stickers, glitter, etc.)
  • Bouncy ball
  • Cardboard
  • Glue or tape
  • Rubber bands, elastic or other stretchy material
  • Scissors


Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Cut a piece of cardboard to create the paddleboard shape and size you’d like.
  2. Trace your paddleboard on another piece of cardboard and then cut it out. This will create two identical paddleboard cutouts.
  3. Cut a rubber band, piece of elastic or piece of stretchy material about 8 inches long.
  4. Poke a hole in the center of one of your paddleboard cutouts.
  1. Take your stretchy material and thread it through the hole.
  2. Secure the stretchy material by tying it in a knot so it does not slide back through the hole.
  1. Next, take your second paddleboard cutout and glue or tape it on the top of the first cutout, covering where you secured your stretchy material.
  2. Take your bouncy ball and attach it to the free end of the stretchy material.  Experiment with different securing methods to see which one works best (e.g., tying, gluing, taping, etc.).
  1. Make your paddleball unique by decorating it with art materials like paint, stickers or colorful duct tape!
  2. Take this activity one step further by experimenting with the modifications below!
    • Try adjusting the length of your string. Does it make your paddleball easier to use? Why or why not?
    • Try out objects from around your home, like a table tennis ball, silly putty or clay that could replace the bouncy ball, and observe which one works best.
    • Try hitting the ball overhanded and then underhanded. Determine which technique allows you to hit the ball the most times consecutively.


Activity #2: DIY Spinning Top

Materials Needed

  • Round toothpick
  • Small cap (milk jug cap, juice container cap, etc.)


Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Ask an adult to help you drill or poke a hole in a cap.
  2. Slide the cap on the round toothpick so it is about half an inch from the bottom. You may need to glue the cap around the hole once it is on the toothpick to ensure it is level and will not slide off.
  3. Take it for a spin!
  4. Take this activity one step further by experimenting with your top!
    • Spin it on different surfaces.
    • Change the amount of force you use to spin the top.
    • Create a new top and place the cap higher or lower on the toothpick.
    • Make tops using different toothpick lengths.
    • Use different materials from around your home to create your own unique top!


What Are We Exploring?

Behind the classic toys that have delighted children for generations, there are many innovative and inspiring stories. National Inventors Hall of Fame® Inductee Joshua Lionel Cowen made a significant impact in the toy industry with his invention of the toy train. At a time when trains were at their peak in popularity, Cowen developed his invention after experimenting with electrical currents. When he pitched his idea to a toy store, the owner ordered several sets. Sparking a collector’s hobby for many, Cowen’s model train systems are accurate replicas of real trains, from the correct number of rivets on the locomotive to model freight cars that automatically unload miniature cargo. Toys, like Cowen’s invention, become classics through their ability to stand the test of time while allowing for hours of fun.


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