Building Bridges

— Written By and last updated by Nancie Mandeville

Welcome to a new series called educational challenges your family can do at home this summer before school starts back in the next few weeks. If you are looking for some fun engineering challenges for your children, I’ve got something to share with you. Simply using toothpicks and gumballs, youth will build a small bridge. It’s a quick lesson for youth to learn about the characteristics of different bridges and understand how to best create their bridge during the challenge. Once they compose their build, they can test the bridge with each other. 

In order to complete this challenge (based on 10 kids), you only need four things – two packs of 100 toothpicks, four packs of gumballs, and random materials to test the strength of the bridge. I like to use washers. 

Activity Steps:

  1. Discuss common problems needed to be addressed when building a bridge. 
  2. Show pictures of real bridges and discuss the design features they have in common. 
  3. Encourage youth to draw a design of a bridge and design a prototype using the materials. This is the fun part! You can set a limit to the number of materials or give them no limits at all. It’s really up to you!
  4. Once they complete their bridges, they can test their strengths using your measurement tool of choice.

To learn more about the Building Bridges activity, download the Inspire Kids to Do Activity Guide on the National 4-H website. If you are interested in learning more about 4-H contact the local 4-H office at 704.283.3735 or 704.283.3740. Thank you and have a great day!