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STEM Activities

STEM Activity: Your Invention on Display

Invention happens when creative people identify needs or problems in the world and discover solutions for them. It involves design thinking, problem solving and oftentimes collaboration. At the National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF), we believe all children have the power to invent.

Celebrate Kid Inventors’ Day on Jan. 17 by exploring how inventors keep track of their ideas and develop original inventions. Then, build a prototype (model) of your very own invention!


Materials Needed

  • Craft supplies (e.g., aluminum foil, construction paper, craft sticks, pipe cleaners)
  • Crayons, markers or pencil
  • Recyclables (e.g., cardboard boxes, cereal boxes, plastic bottles)
  • Ruler
  • Scissors
  • Tape


Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Look around you and find challenges you could solve or items you could improve. Is there a door that won’t stay open? Do you have a toy that would be more interesting with lights or sound? Is there someone in your life with a need you could help?
  2. Grab a notebook or piece of paper to sketch some of your ideas. Remember that inspiration can come from anywhere and sketches don’t have to be perfect!
  3. Do a safe internet search to explore designs of inventions that already exist and compare them to your ideas.
  4. Use a ruler to add measurements to your invention sketches. Consider adding notes about the materials you will use and labels to show how your invention works.
  5. Once you’ve come up with an idea and sketched it out, gather materials from your home that you can use to make a prototype of your invention, like boxes, bottles and craft supplies. Be sure to test various functions of your prototype and rebuild if needed.
  6. Lastly, create a museum display table or case to show your invention prototype to friends or family. (Recyclables are great to use for this!). Don’t forget to add an artifact tag to share important information, like the invention name and your name. You also might want to add a brief description of your invention.
  7. Congratulate yourself on being an innovator! Your ideas have value, and it is important to always explore them. What idea will you think of next?


What Are We Discovering?

Many of our NIHF inductees began designing inventions as kids. Lonnie Johnson, inventor of the Super Soaker®, built his own robot in his family’s kitchen! Dean Kamen, known for the invention of the first wearable medication infusion pump, invented a pulley system to make his bed at age 6. Andrew Higgins, most famous for developing the landing craft known as the Higgins Boat, made a boat in his parents’ basement, and Polly Smith, one of the creators of the Jogbra® – the first sports bra, began sewing her own clothes in the eighth grade!

Many products you know of today were created by kids as well! Popsicles were created by Frank Epperson at 11 years old and earmuffs were created by Chester Greenwood at 15 years old. Louis Braille spent his teen years creating a new language for the blind, known as Braille. Robert Patch invented a toy truck at 6 years old; he built his prototype of the toy truck out of bottle caps and cardboard.

Inventors like NIHF Inductee Rebecca Richards-Kortum and Collegiate Inventors Competition® Winner Elizabeth Bianchini often keep sketches or a journal of their ideas. Journaling is a great way to keep track of your inventions and support self-awareness. By writing about your emotions throughout the day, you gain insight into what makes you happy and confident. Many people prefer to use paper and pencil to journal, but you can keep a journal digitally if that works better for you!


Learn More

Want to know more about kid inventors? Check out these books:

  • “Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions” by Chris Barton
  • "Six Dots" by Jen Bryant
  • “Brainstorm!: The Stories of Twenty American Kid Inventors” by Tom Tucker
  • “Have You Thanked A KidVentor Today?” by Patrice McLaurin
  • “Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women” by Catherine Thimmesh
  • “The Kids’ Invention Book” by Arlene Erlbach

For more fun, innovative activities for your family, check out our blog!

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