Environmental Learning Natural Play Pure Science

Easy Engineering- Milk Carton Paddle Boat

What makes that boat go?

Row, row, row your boat

Gently down the stream

Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily

Life is but a dream

Let’s take that row boat idea a bit further for kids.  Here’s a way to learn about forces, paddle power, and engineering as a process.  When the paddle and rubber band are wound then released, the boat gently glides across the water.  Better yet, the paddle and rubber band can be easily adjusted and changed by kids.  Now that’s engineering!  Who in your family, in your classroom, or on your staff can build the fastest, prettiest, or most balanced boat?  What other ways can you reduce, reuse, recycle, or upcycle a milk carton?

How to build a milk carton boat:

  1. Gather materials and tools:  half gallon milk carton (rinsed with cap), 2 bamboo skewers or chopsticks, clear packing tape, plastic lid (we used a blueberry container lid), various rubber bands (to test which size and thickness works best), scissors, sink/tub of water.
  2. Decide how you would like the bow of your boat- flatter like a barge or more pointed like a speedboat.  Cut a rectangle off of the appropriate side.  You may want to save the rectangular wax-coated paper to create another paddle for the back.
  3. Line up a bamboo skewer/chopstick on each side of the boat with 3-5” sticking off of the back of the boat then secure with packing tape.
  4. Place a rubber band across ends of the sticks at the back of the boat.
  5. Cut a rectangle or two out of plastic or wax-coated cardboard.  Slide the rectangle in-between the rubber band.  Alternatively, fold two rectangles in half then glue them together at the mid-way point to form a 4 paddle wheel.  Run one of the paddles through the rubber band.
  6. Twist the rectangle around and around to wind the rubber band.  Set in water and release to watch your paddle boat go!
  7. Lastly, keep improving your boat.  The more you test it, adjust it, improve it, or innovate it…the more you’ve ENGINEERED it!

Play. Learn. Love.

January 2014