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The STEAM Challenge: Building Shelter

explore the science behind building an outdoor shelter in your own backyard

A simple lean-to shelter. (Photo by Erik Fitzpatrick | CC BY 2.0)
A simple lean-to shelter. (Photo by Erik Fitzpatrick | CC BY 2.0)

Hopefully, cooler weather is right around the corner and that means so is school! Learning inside is great and it keeps the kiddos focused, but outside play and learning are just an important – and they let the child lead and learn on their own! Here’s a great way to have them practice all of their STEAM skills in one project.


Exploring and observing the science behind building an outdoor shelter.


Use your scientific and detective skills to figure out the best way to build a strong, steady, and safe structure. Use whatever you can find! 


How long can your structure stand?

  • Paper
  • Pen/pencil
  • Anything you can find outside (or inside) to create your structure.
  • This challenge is very open-ended as it can be applied whenever and wherever the materials are available!
  • To start, you first want to imagine what your structure might look like. Walk around your house, inside and outside, or wherever you will be building your shelter. See what you can use to make it. Then, using your pencil and paper, draw a picture of it. What will the front, side, top, etc., all look like? If there any building notes you will need, write those on the side of the drawing.
  • Once you have your drawing done, get to work! Ask any adults for assistance and if it is OK to use specific materials. As you are building, if there are parts of it that you would like to change, make sure you add those to your drawing!
    You can do this inside or outside, rain or shine!
Questions to Mull Over...
  • How can you make your shelter last longer?
  • What materials work best?
  • What shape is best for our shelter?
  • Did drawing and imagining what it might look like help?
  • Where is the best place to make your shelter?
  • Who might have made shelters like this before?
  • Who else draws structures before they build?

The Family STEAM Challenge is all about experimenting with the ordinary to make the extraordinary! Chippewa Valley Family challenges your family to think and play together all in the name of science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics (that’s where the STEAM comes in).

Each challenge can be completed as a family or a group of friends in as little or as much time needed; however, most challenges can be completed within one sitting. The Family STEAM Challenge is also designed to get all ages involved through hands on experimenting. So get ready to put your collective thinking caps on to design a seriously cool apparatus made almost entirely out of reusable or recyclable materials laying around the house. Thanks to Sarah McInnis at the Children’s Museum of Eau Claire for this issue’s Family STEAM Challenge.

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