12 Engineering Challenges for Elementary School

Teach students to think like engineers with fun hands-on building and design challenges. Spark interest and build confidence with one of these free engineering challenges for elementary school students.

Images of 12 student Engineering Design Challenges for elementary school students, including slime, DIY sports equipment, water wheel, bridge design, vibrobots, paddle boats, paper tower, and more (described and linked below)

12 Engineering Challenges to Inspire Elementary School Students!

Engineering design challenges are a great way to ignite student interest in STEM. When students tackle an engineering design challenge, they are encouraged to brainstorm, design, build, test, problem solve, troubleshoot, tinker, innovate, and iterate.

Try one of the 12 engineering design challenges below with K-5 students to create fun, confidence-building opportunities for innovation and invention. Many of these challenges use simple materials (like paper and recycled cardboard), which makes them easy to do in the classroom, great for makerspaces of all sizes, and fun for families at home or for independent student exploration.

  1. Paper Bridge Design Challenge: design and make bridges out of folded pieces of paper and test to see which shape can hold the most weight. (Tip! Continue this exploration with the Paper Bridge Materials Challenge.)
  2. Invent an Insect: learn about insect adaptations and invent a new insect designed to live in a specific environment.
  3. Slime Shop: Engineer Your Own Slime: use the engineering design process to create custom formulas for making slime.
  4. Build a Balloon Car: build and race balloon cars while learning about kinetic and potential energy and the conservation of energy. (Note: See also the 12 Activities and Lessons to Teach Potential and Kinetic Energy resource.)
  5. Solar-Powered Cars for Junior Solar Sprints: build and test solar-powered cars to explore electronics, alternative energy, and the engineering design process.
  6. Tallest Paper Tower Challenge for Grades 3-5: build a tower as tall as possible using only paper and tape. The tower needs to be sturdy enough to support an unopened can of food for at least sixty seconds. (This was the 2021 Fluor Challenge! Learn about other Fluor Challenge projects.)
  7. Make the Fastest Rubber Band Paddle Boat: experiment with different designs and materials to see which can be used to make the fastest rubber band paddle boat.
  8. Build Your Own Sports Equipment: choose a sport (or invent a game) and use recycled and craft materials to make the tools you need to play.
  9. Design Vibrating Robots: students can explore a range of materials, shapes, and designs for the bodies and legs of these simple robots.
  10. Cricket Wicket Knockdown Challenge for Grades 3-5: design and build a device that can launch a ball and knock down a target. (This was the 2020 Fluor Challenge! Learn about other Fluor Challenge projects.)
  11. Protect Your ‘Eggstronaut’: Build an Egg-Drop Lander: learn about Newton’s laws of motion and potential and kinetic energy while designing and testing a device to protect an egg from breaking when dropped from a certain height.
  12. Build a Machine to Lift Water: students tackle a hypothetical real-world problem and build a device that can manually pump water during an emergency. (This lesson connects with Season 1 of Global Problem Solvers: The Series.)

See the Engineering Design Process in Action

For additional resources to help teach students about engineering design, see Free Lessons and Videos to Teach the Engineering Design Process.

The Engineering Design Process: An Eggstronaut Mission

Engineering Challenge Videos

Watch these STEM videos to get an idea about some of the engineering design challenges listed above:

Paper Bridges STEM Activity

Build a Solar-Powered Car for the Junior Solar Sprint

Tallest Tower: 2021 Fluor Engineering Challenge

DIY Rubber Band Paddle Boat

Cricket Wicket Knockdown: 2020 Fluor Engineering Challenge

Build a Machine to Lift Water – STEM Lesson Plan

Engineering Challenges for Other Grade Levels

For engineering activities with other grade levels, see:

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