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Building Chain Reactions | A Loose-Parts Engineering Activity

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According to Loose Parts Learning in K-3 Classrooms, embracing a loose-parts mindset is beneficial for dynamic student learning in engineering. Children delight in creating different structures from blocks, building sets, balls and ramps, and tinkering. Building chain reactions are an engaging way to experience simple machines and how they can be combined to get things done. In the activity below, children may use a variety of loose parts to build their own unique chain reactions. Get the book—Loose Parts Learning in K-3 Classrooms—for more on implementing the loose-parts mindset and loose-parts activities in each of the STREAM disciplines. 


  • Large craft sticks 
  • Keva planks
  • Balls
  • 3-ounce plastic portion cups
  • Paper cups
  • Index cards
  • Dominoes
  • Magnets 
  • Blocks
  • 1-inch wooden cubes
  • Tin cans (smooth edge)
  • Shoeboxes
  • Paper-towel tubes
  • Tape
  • Marbles
  • Recycled materials
  • Anything else within reason, such as stacked books, rulers, and so on

What to Do

  1. Start at the end. 
  2. Make a plan. 
  3. Gather your materials.
  4. Work on it piece by piece.

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