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BBRRRRRRRR! It’s frigid here (I’m talking exposed-skin-freezes cold!) so we’ve been stuck inside this week. While looking for things to keep us busy, we surveyed our stash of recyclables and decided to put together a STEAM project we could play with, add to and enjoy for the rest of the week.
Using some old cardboard boxes and recycled bits, we created this adorable snowball factory! Drop a “snowball” in one of the cutouts at the top and it travels down a hidden chute, popping out at the bottom! This is a wonderfully interactive way to teach simple addition, as you can drop different numbers of snowballs in the chutes at the top, then count how many have been collected in the box at the bottom for a total. As a kid who had a lot of trouble with math, I totally would have appreciated the playfulness and physicality of this!
There are endless opportunities for construction, tinkering, engineering and science with this setup (read below to see how we even worked in a little lesson on green energy)! You can work in all sorts of moving parts and challenges to help develop creative building skills and comfort with trial-and-error experimentation.
Watch the video for a quick tour of our STEAM Snowball Factory!
We have it on good authority that up in Antarctica this time of year, there are places where the light never fades and the snowball fights last for DAYS. Arctic competitors need stockpiles of snowballs for these record-long games, so this industrious colony of penguins is on a mission to streamline production – with your help of course… 😉
To make your own STEAM snowball factory you’ll need:
- 24-Can cardboard box (or similar – our printable is sized to cover a 10.75″ x 15.5″ surface)
- A cardboard paper towel or wrapping paper roll
- Cardboard box scraps as needed
- Rubber cement
- A glue gun
- An X-Acto knife or utility knife
- Pom-poms or something to use as “snowballs”
- Our STEAM Snowball Factory Printable PDF Note: sized to cover a 10.75″ x 15.5″ surface.
- Loose Parts
A quick note: I’ve shared our snowball factory printable, but you can use this idea and turn it into a full DIY with some imagination, paper, markers, and loose parts. Just cover your box in paper and draw your own factory parts and machinery. We’ve also included a black & white version of our printable that can be colored and drawn on.
DIY Recycled STEAM Snowball Factory Instructions:
- Print our snowball factory template or draw your own
If you’d like to make your factory just like ours, you can download and print our STEAM Snowball Factory Printable Pack. It’s sized to perfectly fit a 24-pack cardboard container (see specific dimensions above) and requires 3 pieces of white card stock for the factory facade and penguins. You can print it in full color, or the black & white pages for kiddos to color in on their own.
- Glue the factory pages to the front of a cardboard box
Glue the factory facade pieces to the front of your box as shown. To glue full pages of paper to a surface, I like using rubber cement, but you can use another craft glue if you prefer. You can cover the top and sides of your box in the same manner with Kraft paper cut to size.
- Cut holes in your box for the snowball chutes
Once the glue has dried, use an X-Acto or utility knife to cut along the top and sides of the square dotted line indicated on the printable. Once the 3-sides are cut, push the square tab in. This will provide both a hidden landing and opening for the snowball chute.
- Cut a cardboard tube in half to create the snowball chutes
Part of the fun of this factory is that it has hidden chutes that carry the “snowballs” from different points on the top to 1 delivery crate at the bottom. To create the chutes, we used a cardboard paper towel roll – cut in half lengthwise. You can use an X-Acto or utility knife to quickly cut your cardboard roll (it doesn’t have to be perfect)!
- Cut a hole in the back of the box and glue the chutes to the inside
Turn your box to the back and cut out a large window (ours already had a handy perforated piece we could just pull up). Using a hot glue gun, glue the halved cardboard tube chutes to the inside of the box as shown. Cut a small square at both far sides of the top of the box. We also hot-glued a couple of “bounce barriers,” (just scraps of cardboard) on either side of our landing tab to keep the pom-poms from bouncing into the inside of our box.
- Use pom pops as snowballs
Your chutes are now ready to deliver! You may want to put a small cardboard box at the bottom to catch the “snowballs,” as we did, so they don’t bounce and roll away!
Additional Steps for Engineering Activities:
At this point, your factory is ready for simple math, sorting, or imaginative play activities. You can stop there, OR use it as a base for more involved creative engineering. For instance, we added:
- A twirling cardboard wind turbine as our factory’s source of power.
- A basket attached to a simple pulley system transports snowballs in our factory.
- Using 2 pieces of pink tape secured around a toothpick + 2 small pieces of a plastic straw glued to the inside of our box, we created a “door” that spins when snowballs exit the chute.
Extra touches for pretend play:
- Our printable includes a full set of penguins – with full-color, black and white, and customizable options for printing.
- We wanted to make the whole face of our factory play-able and interactive, so we hot-glued cardboard landings at the different “floors”. This is a great way to repurpose some small snack boxes or sturdy cardboard packaging.
- Keep that snow cleared! Use another cardboard box to construct a recycled play snowplow with moveable parts.