Whether it’s a dream of flying through the air or exploring the cosmos, all kids long to take off and let their imaginations soar. With these nine simple contraptions that are easy enough to make with things you find around the house, you and your family can launch the fun whether you’re inside on a rainy day or outside in the sun.
You might even sneak in a physics or engineering lesson while you’re at it, but the kids won’t notice — they’ll be too busy hurling plastic bottles, planes, rockets, pom-poms and more through the air.
1. Toy paper helicopter
Ana Dziengel at Babble Dabble Do has perfected the construction of a paper helicopter. Using the template and measurements from her site, along with some paper, paper clips and tape, you and your kids can create a fleet of spinning, colorful helicopters. Take them outside on a sunny day, or throw them from the top of the landing if you’re cooped up on a rainy afternoon. The kids can even practice their science and math skills by experimenting with the measurements to test how far or fast the helicopters fly.
2. Catapult math
For more rainy-day fun, this tutorial from Relentlessly Fun, Deceptively Educational is one part simple contraption and one part math game. Instead of using hard-to-find parts to build a catapult, you and your kids can put one together quickly with craft sticks, rubber bands, hot glue and a bottle cap to hold the projectile. Place pom-poms, marshmallows, or even Lego minifigs in the cap, and then let them fly! No matter what they’re flinging through the air, kids can practice their aim and add up their high scores by firing at numbered paper plates nearby.
3. Quick bottle rocket
Not every contraption has to be fancy or even very complicated to be fun. With just five components found around the house, kids can turn a plastic bottle into a rocket in almost no time at all. Karyn Tripp at Teach Beside Me walks you through using baking soda wrapped in tissue, vinegar, a plastic bottle and a cork in an explosive combination that is practically guaranteed to keep the family outside for hours.
4. Rocket power jetpack
Kids will feel like they’re about to take off themselves when sporting this shiny jetpack. Natalie at Doodlecraft uses recycled soda bottles and cardboard, along with some straps and felt, to create a rocket-powered jetpack that you can easily make at home. Older kids might even like to tackle the project on their own, experimenting with ways to make the pack more stable when worn and adding their own flair.
5. Pool noodle pom-poms shooter
Over at Frogs, Snails and Puppy Dog Tails, Jaime tackled a classic contraption, the marshmallow shooter, and wanted to find ways to make it both fun and toddler-friendly. The secret ingredient? A pool noodle. Jaime’s ingenious creation is ideal for launching colorful pom-poms, leaving the shooter (and your kids) free from a sticky marshmallow mess.
Hovercrafts aren’t contraptions of the future: they’re surprisingly easy to make with just a few household items. All for the Boys gives you the know-how to make a hovercraft, which floats like an air hockey puck but is powerful enough to carry Lego minifigs. You might have to help with the hot glue, but while you craft it together you can chat about airflow and friction. Kids can experiment taking their new hovercrafts for a spin on different surfaces — even water!
7. Straw plane
Over on the phenomenal family blog All for the Boys, Allison Waken provides an easy tutorial for creating a unique airplane that flies even better than just a plain old paper plane. If your kids are like mine, they won’t believe that a straw-and-paper airplane can actually fly, allowing you to make and test a memorable, extremely simple contraption together.
8. Printable paper rockets
If you’ve ever blown the wrapper off a straw before, this all-ages contraption will feel familiar. Picklebums offers a printable template for a rolled-up paper rocket that fits snugly around a straw. Kids can spend hours coloring and decorating the detailed designs, then creating and launching their one-of-a-kind rockets.
9. DIY shuttle launcher
Have you had hours of fun with a Stomp Rocket? Make your own! Older kids who are looking for a little more of a challenge, will particularly like this DIY shuttle launcher from Under the Sycamore. Unless you already have PVC pipe around the house, this project will require a quick trip to the home improvement store, but it’s well worth it. Once the shuttle and launcher are put together, kids of any age will adore stomping on the launcher and sending the shuttle into the sky.
Editor's note: This article was first published a number of years ago and has been updated for December 2021.