LEGO Club Series: Catapults

There is just something gratifying about catapulting something across the room.  Am I right?

This post continues the LEGO club series I’ve been working on. (If you haven’t read my first post on LEGO clubs, this post will give you more information for starting your own club.)  But if you aren’t holding a LEGO club, you still have to try this.  It’s seriously the most fun thing I’ve done with my kids in a while.

The assignment:  Make a catapult that can throw an object.  The object we catapulted was just a small 2 x 1 LEGO piece.  Although, an m&m or small candy would have been fun too!

Along with the usual LEGOs, I set out various sized rubber bands (The Dollar Tree sells a huge package for $1).  We talked for a minute about a few physics principles:

  • Force-  the more force you apply to a catapult, the more speed and distance your object will achieve.  Pulling back further on the catapult adds more force.
  • Angles-  to make it go as far as possible, the angle should be about 45 degrees.  If it is higher than this, it will go high, but not far (which is the goal in this activity).

We then took a minute to explore the tension in rubber bands and how they could possibly help the catapult.  The kids caught onto the idea fast and took off brainstorming their own ideas quickly.

Some of the designs started out simple, but effective:

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They eventually graduated to bigger designs with more creative pieces used.

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We also set up a testing area.  I put a piece of tape, like a starting line, on the floor.  This was where they tested their catapults when they had a working prototype.  It was incredible watching them try out their catapults and then problem-solve when it didn’t work like expected.

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We had ages 5 through 11 building with us and it worked well for all ages.  It would also be a fun activity to get down on the floor one-on-one with your child.  You could really take the time to talk through what makes a catapult work.  And show some full-focused parental attention!

Happy building!

 

LEGO Club Series: How To Start A LEGO Club, Week 1

LEGOs are awesome.  Like, really, really awesome.  Every time you build (ahem.. I mean, the kids build 🙂 ) with LEGOs, a new adventures awaits- exciting adventures with endless possibilities!

There are so many questions to answer, such as:

  • How tall can I make a tower?  To the top of the couch?  To the ceiling?
  • Can I build a bridge strong enough to hold the biggest rock in my yard?
  • What would my car look like in the future?  Can I create it with LEGOs?

There are so many ideas to explore:

  • If I recreated my bedroom with LEGOs, it would look like….
  • If I only used green LEGOs, I would create…
  • Do fire-breathing dragons exist?  Can I make one?

Letting your kids’ imaginations run wild is one of the funnest thing to watch as a parent.  I like to sit close by while my kids are playing with LEGOs.  Every few minutes they run in and show me a new addition to their creation.  I only have to add a few words, like “Wow!” or “Good work!” and happily they trot back to their work, eyes all aglow.

A few years ago, I decided to increase the fun of LEGOs by hosting a LEGO club at our house.  We invited a few kids from the neighborhood, set a weekly time and off we went.  IT WAS SO FUN!  But it definitely wasn’t without a learning curve.  A few of the ideas were great.  A few flopped.  But overall, it was a success.  My kids had a blast.  The other kids had a blast.  And all the kids spent an hour or two socially and mentally engaged.

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My goal with this LEGO Club Series, is to help you start your own LEGO club.  Or if you already have one going, give you some ideas to reignite the spark.  It’s not hard and it does not require much work.  Also, I’ll throw in some tips that I learned the hard way, so you don’t have to make the same mistakes as me. 🙂

A few things to think about before you get started:

  1. Location
  2. Supplies
  3. Meetings

Location

The biggest requirement for a LEGO club is a large room.  It needs to be big enough for all the kids to move around in without too much commotion.  I have held a LEGO club in my basement toy room.  It was only 15 feet by 20 feet.  It held about 12 kids pretty comfortably.  If you’re overwhelmed by the idea of having that many kids over to your home every meeting, get together with other moms and trade homes.  (Think of the little time to yourself this could create…. win-win!)

Another option is holding it as a public place.  This can be a great option because having 10+ kids over to your home can be a little stressful.  Libraries have great rooms that rent out for free as long as you plan a little bit ahead.  You can even schedule it out for regular intervals- say, the third Tuesday of every month.  Then it’s a no brainer for you after you’ve scheduled it out with your librarian.

Schools also have awesome rooms.  Principals are usually open to STEM ideas like this.  Get a couple parent volunteers and it could be a pretty easy thing to get started.  As one idea, a nearby school had such great interest that they held a LEGO club on Tuesdays for grades 1-3 and Wednesdays for 4-6 graders.  It was an incredible success.

At my kids’ school, LEGOs are already built into the school day curriculum, but they only get limited time to work on their projects.  So having extra LEGO club time at my house is a fun extension of the school day.

Also look around your community- are there rec centers around?  Community centers? Even a great pavilion that you could spread out blankets or use the tables?  Be creative and you could come up with some fun places to hold the club.

The most important questions to ask yourself are:

  1. How many kids will be there? (This will determine the size of room)
  2. Where do they live?  If they are kids from your neighborhood, your house might be easiest.  If they are all across the city, a centrally located library might be best.

Supplies (Getting Your LEGOs!)

For my LEGO clubs, we just used the LEGOs that my kids have collected over the years.  We made a rule that after the club, all the kids would break down their creations back into the bins for use next time.  This worked great.  And since it was in my home, I just kept the LEGOs in bins in the toy room (and yes, they are sorted by color… I’m a little crazy that way).

You can also go and buy a few basic sets that have a variety of pieces- they run you about $20 each.  A couple of those sets would be perfect for a handful of kids to have a fun club meeting.

If you don’t want to fork out any money, watch the local classified ads for people selling LEGOs or ask around the community for people who are willing to donate LEGOs for your club.  A lot of those old moms with grown kids, hate to give up those precious (and EXPENSIVE!) accumulated toys, but if they’re going to a good cause- I bet they’d give them to you for a steal.

Grab a big bin to keep your LEGOs in if you’re going to be transporting them to a school or library or another families’ home.  Make sure to prominently label them with contact information, so they don’t get lost.

Meeting Times and Invitations

The next question to ask yourself is: how often will you hold the club?  Every week? Monthly?

I started off doing the club every Tuesday from 4-5 pm.  It worked great for a few months.  There were some kids who could just build and build and build for hours.  But there were also kids who would get bored after 20 minutes and need another activity.  I found a good balance when I went every other week.  Then it stayed a novelty for the restless kids and they seemed to stay focused better this way.  A lot of it will depend on the group of kids you have and how old they are.

I had one 12 year old who would stay until I literally had to stand in front of him and tell him to go home for dinner.  🙂  ….Although, he also made the most incredible creations.  My kids would play with whatever he made for the rest of the week (his catapult was AMAZING!)

The kindergartners didn’t last as long.  30 minutes was about good for them.

A lot of libraries do their clubs once a month.  Schools, too.  Just pick what feels right for you and then you can always adjust later.

Be sure to send out fun invitations to get everyone excited.  Make them bright and inviting and include all the information including: dates, times, location, and what they need to bring (this is new to a lot of moms).

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Now it’s time to actually have the club meeting!  This is where the fun starts.

Get your room all set up before everyone gets there.  Have your kids help.  They will literally be jumping with excitement.  Lay out the LEGOs.  Either on the tables or if you’re doing it on the floor, lay a big blanket down first (this helps with cleanup sooooo much).

As the kids come in, have them gather in one corner of the room.  Try to keep them from touching the LEGOs if you can.  Once everyone’s there, while everyone is gathered, introduce that week’s theme (more VERY exciting posts to come to help you with this!)

I have tried letting my kids introduce the theme, but it hasn’t worked very well.  They can’t quite seem to command the kind of attention that an adult can.  So I usually do this part.  Maybe you’ll have more luck than me.

Be sure to introduce some rules, such as: do not take LEGOs home, be kind,  no teasing, everyone helps clean up, etc.  You will know what’s right for your group.

This is a good timeline for many LEGO clubs I’ve been to.  Feel free to use it as a guideline as you build your own club:

  • 5 minutes- Welcome. Guests arriving
  • 5 minutes- Introduce the meeting’s theme and set rules
  • 40 minutes- Building Time!
  • 5 minutes- Wrap-up building, possibly share projects with group if appropriate
  • 5 minutes- Clean up and goodbye.

Older kids can have more building time, but about an hour has felt right for the kids ages 5-10 that I’ve worked with.  You will know from that first meeting what works for your club.

The next post in this series will begin the fun ideas for weekly themes.  Have you been to any LEGO clubs?  What successful things have you seen happen in them?  I’d love to hear them in the comments below!

Happy building!

Dawnie