8 STEM Projects using Popsicle Sticks: Fun Kids Activities


Popsicle sticks should be a staple item in every craft bin or makerspace. They’re inexpensive, easily sourced, and versatile. We’ve gathered a list of some of our favorite STEM projects using popsicle sticks to share with you. Let’s explore!

Make a Popsicle Stick Catapult
Popsicle Stick Rubber Band Gun
Build a Bridge From Popsicle Sticks
Popsicle Stick Architecture
Popsicle Stick Bomb/Grenade
Popsicle Stick Chain Reaction
Popsicle Stick Boat
DIY Popsicles

Need some sticks?  You can eat a lot of popsicles, or you can save some time and money and pick up a bulk box of “craft” sticks.  You can find them in your local craft store or online like this box of 1000 sticks on Amazon (affiliate link), which should keep you busy for a while.  Then again, so would eating 1000 popsicles!

If you’re looking for sticks that are a bit bigger and colorful, check out this pack of 500 craft sticks.

Make a Popsicle Stick Catapult

Kids Ready to Launch a Popsicle Stick Catapult
Kids Building a Popsicle Stick Catapult

Kids love a good catapult.  Which is to say they love launching things into the air and watching them take flight. For a simple popsicle stick catapult, you will only need a few items:

  • Popsicle Sticks (8-10)
  • 3 Rubber bands
  • Scissors (optional)
  • Projectiles (mini marshmallows, Gummy Bears, Sparkle Balls, Cheerios, or other soft objects work great)
Popsicle Stick Catapult MAterials
  • Stack some popsicle sticks (we used 7) and use rubber bands to secure both ends of the stack.  The more sticks you use in the stack, the more tension your catapult will have.
Popsicle Stick Catapult construction
  • Stack 2 sticks on top of each other, and secure one end of them together with another rubber band.  If you feel the rubber bands sliding and need a rig a bit more secure, you could notch each side with the scissors to make a groove for the rubber band to sit into.  (We did not need to notch our sticks in this build.)
Popsicle Stick Catapult building
  • Slide the bundle of sticks between the other 2.  We inserted our bottom stick  between the first and second stick in the stack so it held in place.
Popsicle Stick Catapult
  • Place your projectile of choice on the top stick (we used Gummy Bears)
Popsicle Stick Activites - Catapult Launch
Popsicle Stick Activities – Catapult LAUNCH!
  • Bend it down and release!

Things to try:

You can adjust the position of the bundle closer to the rubber band or further back to create more or less tension.  Experiment how the placement affects the height and distance of the catapult.

Experiment launching different projectiles from your popsicle catapult.  Which travels further – lighter or heavier objects?

If you want to get fancy, you can glue a bottlecap to the top stick to hold your projectiles in place.

Our kids loved trying to use the catapult to launch Cheerios into a bowl.

If you like the Popsicle Stick Catapult, check out our Toilet Paper Tube Catapult (and other Toilet Paper Tube Activities.)

Popsicle Stick Rubber Band Gun

Popsicle Stick Rubber Band Gun

We’ve tried two different designs of rubber band guns using popsicle sticks. One was fairly simple, and another a bit more complex. Both did the job, and were fun to build. You’ll need:

  • 4 Popsicle Sticks
  • Rubber Bands
  • Glue
  • Utility knife
  1. Glue the end of one popsicle stick between two others forming an “L” shape. It’s okay if the L opens a bit on the wide side, depending on how you want your grip.
  2. Cut the 4th popsicle stick in half. You can score it with the utility knife and wiggle the pieces apart.
  3. Glue half of the cut stick between the ends of the two sticks that are stacked up. This will be the grip.
  4. Cut a small notch at the end of the single stick which will serve as the barrel. This notch will old the rubber band when we ‘load’ it.
  5. Cut and angle on the remaining half stick as shown in the photo. This will be both the trigger and release.
  6. Using rubber bands, attach the trigger piece to the barrel. Make an “X” so there is equal tension on both sides, and make it angle slightly towards the front of the gun on the bottom.
  7. Lock and load: Place one end of a rubber band in the notch at the front, and stretch it over the angled part on top of the trigger piece.
  8. By pulling the trigger back, it moves the angle piece forward and releases the rubber band.
Popsicle Stick Rubber Band Gun shot

Build a Bridge From Popsicle Sticks

Bridges are a classic engineering challenge:  Build a structure that spans two points.  The longer the distance, the more difficult it is to distribute the weight (especially towards the middle.)

What kind of bridge can you build from popsicle sticks?  How long will it be?  How much weight can it support before breaking?  What can you build using only:

  • Popsicle Sticks
  • Glue

Start with a simple structure and a short distance to get a feel for how much weight popsicle sticks can hold. For younger kids, try using binder clips or wooden clothespins to hold the sticks together.

For older kids, it’s time to get experimental, and don’t forget about aesthetics! (Design counts; no one wants to see a bridge that’s en eyesore.)

Popsicle Stick Architecture

Popsicle sticks can make great building blocks.  With a bit of ingenuity, you can create some interesting structures.  From a simple boxy log cabin, to tall intricate towers. 

  • Popsicle Sticks
  • Glue

If you’re interested in building, it’s worth checking out these notched craft sticks that fit together.  They’re ideal for building.

Colorful Sawtooth Wood Craft Sticks- Assorted Color and Natural Wooden Popsicle Sticks

Popsicle Stick Bomb/Grenade

We’ve found a few variations of this one.  It’s a simple matter of weaving the popsicle sticks together and letting a slight bit of tension hold them in place.  Once released, the popsicle sticks have nothing holding them together and fly apart.  Our boys enjoy this (do it again!) an we wanted to share it with you.

All you need is 5 popsicle sticks.

  • Arrange 2 popsicle sticks in a V shape
Popsicle Stick Bomb construction
  • Place a third stick between the first 2 like an arrow, with the 2 tips resting on the middle stick (not stacked up)
Popsicle Stick Bomb building
  • Weave the fourth stick so it’s under the outer two sticks, but on top of the middle stick.  It should be perpendicular to center stick, right about in the middle.
Popsicle Stick Bomb weaving sticks
  • The fifth and final stick should cross similarly towards the bottom, but this time under the center stick and  over the outer sticks.
Popsicle Stick Bomb
  • Drop it or gently toss it so it lands flat.
  • Boom!

The impact should be enough to jar the tip of the arrow shape where the 3 sticks touch.  Once the tension is released, the rest of the sticks will fly apart.

By weaving the sticks together in this way, we’re storing Potential energy .  They want to move and unbend themselves, but are locked in place by the other sticks.  Potential energy is created due to the tension and the way the sticks are weaved together.  When the  sticks are jostled and “unlocked” the stored potential energy gives way to kinetic energy as they fly apart.

We sometimes found this difficult to hold together while we were adding the 4th and 5th sticks, especially when using craft sticks.  The tension in the sticks made them want to slide apart.  It may be helpful to have an extra hand by having a friend hold down the top pieces while you weave the other sticks through. 

Constructing these on a carpet or rubber gym mat also help. We found it much easier to use actual popsicle sticks rather than craft sticks; the craft sticks were quicker to slide apart (and the kids never miss an excuse to eat another popsicle.).

Popsicle Stick Chain Reaction

You can take the Popsicle Stick Bomb to the next level and create a chain reaction. 

  • Start by crossing two sticks in an X
  • Place a third stick parallel of one of the others, with it’s end underneath the crossing stick
  • Cross this with a fourth stick with its end tucked under
  • Continue crossing and tucking sticks in this fashion.  Be sure to hold down the end stick until you’re ready for the chain reaction
  • You can “lock” it in place by wedging a stick at the end of your chain

When you remove the locking stick and release the pressure holding down the end of the stick, the whole chain will quickly unravel and release the next stick like toppling dominoes, as you can see in the above video.

Popsicle Stick Boat

Popsicle Stick Boat STEM Challenge

You can build a simple raft style boat, or step it up with some more complex designs.

  • Popsicle Sticks
  • Glue

Once you’ve got your boat built, it’s time to put it to the test: Does it float? How much weight can it hold before sinking?

Popsicle Stick Boat Float Test

DIY Popsicles

What’s the most obvious activity to make with popsicle sticks?  Popsicles, of course?  Of all the activities, this was our kids favorite. (Though they did really like the catapult; it was a toss up!)

  • Popsicle sticks
  • Juice or Drink Mix
  • Ice Cube Trays or several small cups
  • Plastic wrap
DIY Popsicles
  • Pour your drink of choice into the cups or ice cube tray. 
  • Cover with the plastic wrap
  • Push the popsicle stick through the plastic wrap into the liquid.  The plastic should hold the stick in place while the liquid freezes around it. (some of our sticks leaned this way or that. We’re not striving for perfection here and the kids didn’t seem to mind when enjoying their treat!)
  • Place in the freezer until frozen
  • Enjoy!
Eating DIY Popsicles
DIY Popsicles make a bite sized refreshing treat on a hot day

To make it a bit more of a STEM activity, we talked about states of matter.  We’re taking our liquid drink mix and freezing it into a solid around the stick.

Note:  Make sure you’re using “popsicle” sticks and not “craft” sticks.  Craft sticks are, as the name implies, for crafting and are not necessarily food safe.

Wrap Up – STEM Projects using Popsicle Sticks

There we have it, a collection of cool popsicle stick activities to test and grow your design skills and imagination. These are some fun STEM/STEAM projects that can scale with kid’s ages. The older they get, the more complex structures they’ll be able to build (and catapults and popsicle stick bombs never get old!)

Kids can compete with each other (and themselves) to see if they can build a taller or stronger structure or use lessons learned to improve on a design.

We love popsicle stick activities, and more importantly, so do our kids!

Looking for more STEM Projects and Activities? Check out our other STEM Challenges.

hevanmiller

H. Evan Miller is as dedicated to fatherhood as he is to life long learning. Musician, Photographer, Educator, Consultant, Entrepreneur, Blogger, and founder of STEMtropolis, where you can share his adventures in STEM and STEAM with his family.

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