This is one of my all-time favorite collaborative activities for kids age 3 – 7. (Kids 6 and older could do it without parental help – for younger kids, it’s a great parent-child cooperative project.) I first saw it at a construction themed birthday party. We’ve now been using it in my class for years for our engineering unit on “When I Build a House.”
The kids “build a house” using toy hammers, wooden golf tees and foam insulation panels (We use the R-Tech 1 inch by 2 foot by 4 foot panels from Home Depot. I tested Insulfoam’s DIY Insulation Kit and wasn’t happy with this alternative – the panels are flimsy and easy for kids to break and make lots of styrofoam “crumbs” to vacuum up.) For a class with 20 kids, we have 10 full panels, plus a few cut into halves and thirds. Most can be re-used for this project many times) plus golf tees and to assemble a building. (Click on any picture for a bigger view.)
You can use the panels horizontally – the advantage to that is kids can work more independently – or use them vertically to make a 4 foot tall building – the advantage is kids can stand up inside it, but they’ll need adults to help them put together the first few tall walls, and they’ll likely want to climb on chairs to do some of the work.
You can also give them small pieces of Styrofoam to nail on as windows and other accessories. You could give them a Sharpie to draw decorations on the panels, but I want to be able to re-use them in future classes, so I don’t. Having tape would allow you to do some things like create hinges for doors, but it can be hard to remove the tape without tearing off the silvery covering.
This is a great activity for any preschool or elementary class or for a construction themed birthday party, and it’s pretty cheap – about $30 in Styrofoam, $4 in golf tees, and you can ask all the guests to bring their own toy hammer or mallet (just have a few extras just in case.) And when you’re done, you have insulation panels for a crawlspace or attic – with just a few holes in them :-).