STEM Project: Engineer a House out of Natural Materials

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Do you like having outdoor projects? I love getting my hands dirty and working in the garden or spending time outside trying to build things. And I’m sure your kids love it too! The fresh air, the feeling you are doing something productive and having fun at the same time. The beauty of the outdoors is you can even get sidetracked and explore something else because there is so much out there that is pulling on your senses. This STEM project will get you out and about and will challenge your engineering spirit.

STEM project Engineering Design Process

So today I wanted to bring you a fun outdoor STEM project, building a house out of natural materials. It is a guided STEM project that follows engineering design principles and explores natural materials and construction. It is an open-ended activity that lets your child think and design, plan, explore outside, build and most importantly have fun while learning.

My experience as an engineer taught me that every project is different and requires different solutions. Getting into the habit of questioning things and reflecting on how things work is key in STEM. And this is what I wanted to offer with this activity, a chance for you and your children to explore and question in order to solve something using engineering principles.

Some Background Information

This guided activity is designed to introduce or reinforce the STEM project method that engineers follow whenever designing a product. The general steps followed are:

  1. Identify a problem
  2. Gather information
  3. Design a solution
  4. Plan the project
  5. Build the product
  6. Evaluate and test the result
  7. Improve
STEM project Engineering Design Process

We are going to use this method to build a house out of natural materials.

You can use this free printable to guide the activity and to write all your discoveries down.

So let’s get started!

STEM Project: Let’s make a Nature House using Engineering Principles!

Identify a Problem

We want to give your child a reason they are building a house. It could be for fairies, birds, mice or any little animal. They might need a house because winter is coming or they need a bigger house because they now have babies. Choose something that you know your child will find interesting and motivating. You can also just Google nature houses and show them the images and say you’d  love to build one but dont really know how to do it and if they could help you.

Gather Information

Ok so before we go out we need a plan! And to be able to plan we need to have information about the house we are going to build. Time to brainstorm:

  • What type of house are we building? How big should it be? What shape does it have?
  • Does it have windows and doors?
  • What weather does it have to withstand? Hot? Cold? Rain? Snow?
  • Does it need protection? A fence?
  • What materials can we find nature? Wood? Mud? Leaves?
  • What characteristics do these materials have? Resistant? Heavy? Waterproof? Fireresistant?

In the printable you will find a list of materials and characteristics to help you find inspiration.

Design a Solution

So we had our brains working and we have an understanding  of what is out there and what we want. Next step is to design! Draw a sketch of what you want the house to look like. With the sketch it is time to discuss the design.

  • What characteristics should the walls/roof have?
  • What materials can we use for the walls, roof and any other element your house has?
  • How many of those materials do you think we need? (When answering this question we can make a list of materials which is something extremely important in any enginnering process)
  • What tools are we going to need to put everything together?

Plan the STEM Project

By now we should have a list of materials, a list of tools and a rough sketch of what our house will look like. Time to craft a plan of action! Questions you can ask and things to take into account:

  • What is the first thing we should do?
  • In what order should we do these tasks: build, collect materials, test our design, collect tools
  • Should we collect the exact number of materials we said? More?
  • If we find something we didn’t think of what should we do?
  • What should we take when we go collect our materials?

Build the Nature House

The moment of truth has arrived! Up until now, your project was all theoretical and now it is time to put all that thinking into action! Here are some tips for building the house (you might not need them).

  • Lay all your materials out and categorize them according to the function they are going to serve and what element they are going to be
  • If you can, build your house on something you will be able to pick up and move, like a tray or a big cardboard in case you need to move it before it’s finished
  • Start with the walls, they are the foundation of your house

Here are some fun houses projects that can inspire you:

Evaluate the Result and Improve

Once you have finished it is always good to reflect on the project. It helps your children think about alternatives and what can be done better. Some questions to ask:

  • Does your house solve the problem? How?
  • If it doesn’t, what needs to be changed?
  • Does it solve a different problem or could you use it for something else?
  • What would you have done differently?
  • What went better/worse than expected?

As you can see this project is full of questions and this is something engineers face on an everyday basis. This is good practice for your children to think about their surroundings and how different materials can solve problems. It also shows them the importance of design and planning before taking on any project.

This type of method is so important in STEM activities and projects. However, it is also useful for anyone who has to tackle a project. If you need to write a paper for school you don’t just sit down and write, if you plan before, the writing will go much smoother. I myself use this method before writing a post! So this is why it is important to learn this method and what better way than through a hands-on approach!

I hope you enjoy and have fun with this activity and create some wonderful nature houses!

For more information about STEM and how to transform your STEM activities at home, check out these posts:

Check out other fun STEM activities to sneak in some STEM learning:

Happy STEM learning!

STEM project Engineering Design Process

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