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Do-Nothing Machines

15-30 Minutes: 2 and up: STEM
STEM Activities nothing machines

Do-Nothing Machines

STEM Activities nothing machines


Explore the process of creating machines that do…nothing! This activity encourages creative engineering and helps children learn the vocabulary and processes to constructing a project. With no set direction, there is no pressure to complete a design—simply fun and learning!

Set Up ideas

Provide a variety of materials for children to utilize in their machines. This is a great time to bring out all those leftover doodads that you haven't found a use for!

Let’s Get Started

For this activity, you'll need the book, "The Do-Nothing Machine" by Sharon MacDonald. In addition, you'll also need glue and tape, as well as several disposable and recyclable construction materials such as cardboard boxes, craft rolls or paper towel rolls, wood scraps, etc.


Read the book "The Do-Nothing Machine" to the child or group. Discuss John's machine and how he had fun in the process of creating it even though it did not have a purpose.


Display the variety of materials gathered together for the project and challenge the children to each build a machine without worrying about whether it does anything.


Support the children through their creative process by noting specific aspects of their work and by using appropriate engineering terminology. Assist in cutting any pieces as necessary.


Once the children have completed their machines, have a show and tell so that the children can admire and discuss each other's do-nothing machines.

As they create their structure, speak with the children using the vocabulary of engineering. Make an effort to use some of the following words: construct, hypothesis, adjust, build, analyze, stability and structure. Learning these words will help the children use those skills when doing other projects.


Tips and Tricks

Tips and Tricks

The more unique materials that you can provide for the children, the more interesting creations they will make! Be sure to ask plenty of questions about children's do-nothing machines and encourage their work.

Follow up Activity

Follow up Activity

While this activity encourages spontaneity and creativity, children should also learn how to create and stick to a plan. Encourage children to first draw a machine and then create it with the materials provided.

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