These paper bag STEM challenges are perfect for a screen-free week of play and learning. Our STEM challenge ideas are perfect for the younger age group who may still need some help from adults and older kids who love to invent new things. Have fun with all of our science experiments and STEM activities.

What Are STEM Challenges?

Generally, STEM activities or challenges solve a problem. They involve a bit of science, technology, engineering, math, or a combination of two or more concepts.

A good STEM project will move kids through the design process. You can read more about What STEM here.

STEM might sound complicated or just too hard to set up or you might assume that STEM only comes in kits…

We are here to show you how easy and fun STEM challenges can be. Set up these STEM challenge ideas at home, use them with small groups in the classroom, or offer them in a club setting.

We have an awesome week of paper bag STEM challenges planned for you. The designs, the process, and the solutions your kids come up with are completely up to them!

I designed these paper bag STEM challenges based on my son’s interests and abilities. I will usually be on hand to help and guide him, but I don’t direct the activity for him. However, I ask him open-ended questions throughout the activity whenever he seems stuck. 

Try our printable Questions for Reflections, perfect for reflecting on and evaluating your STEM challenge solution!

NEW! Free Printable STEM Challenge Starter Pack

Click below to get your quick and easy STEM challenges. 

How To Get Started With Your STEM Challenges

You will need paper lunch bags and a variety of materials, which are listed below each activity. (You can substitute as needed.)

Here is a whole week of pre-planned STEM ideas, challenges, and activities perfect for getting kids off the screens and into creating! Write the challenge onto your paper bag and add in any supplies to get started.

I have a big collection of recyclable and non-recyclable items from around the house, from packages we receive to old toys and electronics. Designate a large storage bin for your STEM challenge supplies. Toss cool and useful items into it. You will be happy you did! Kids love to create.

While you only add a few materials to each bag, it’s important to remember that kids need access to basic materials to develop prototypes or solutions. Here is a simple but not exhaustive list of additional STEM supplies. Grab a plastic caddy from the dollar store, fill it, and keep it nearby.

  • Paper and pencils
  • String
  • Tape
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • Paper Clips
  • Ruler, measuring tape

Also check out our list of science in a bag ideas and mason jar experiments!

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7 Paper Bag STEM Challenges 

PAPER BAG #1 Build A Cup Tower

Use a ruler to determine the height of the tower. 12″, 36″, the doorway, or as tall as your kids! Look for a free printable for our 100-cup tower challenge here.

SUPPLIES: Paper or plastic cups and rulers. You decide what size cups you want to use (mini bathroom size, small, medium, or large)!

PAPER BAG #2 Sink The Bottle

Does an empty (sealed) plastic bottle float? Can you sink a plastic bottle without filling it with water? The cap must stay on, but there are no other rules!

What can you do to the bottle or fill the bottle with to sink it?

Kids should have access to items around the room or yard. If not, have some items already gathered they can test out.

SUPPLIES: Plastic water bottle, a bucket of water, and additional items.

paper bag stem challengesPin

PAPER BAG #3 Build A Pulley or Winch

Build a working pulley! Is it strong enough to lift a soup can? Adding a specific challenge to the engineering challenge is a great way to encourage even deeper critical thinking skills and extend the challenge to allow for additional testing and redesigning!

SUPPLIES: Cardboard tubes, pencils, lids, spools, string, cups, etc

Try It: Hand Crank Winch! Mini Pulley PVC Pipe Pulley

PAPER BAG #4 Slow Ball Roll

How slowly can you make a ball roll down an inclined surface? Time your slow ball roll. Can you make it go slower? What do you need to add or take away? 

SUPPLIES: Large slanted surface (big piece of cardboard) or wall space, cardboard tubes, and other recyclables, including paper and tape. Some sort of ball like a ping pong ball.

Need to keep it small? Use a marble and a smaller piece of cardboard, you can supply craft sticks and other small-scale materials.

PAPER BAG #5 Marshmallow Tower

How tall can you build a tower of marshmallows without it falling over? While the most straightforward of all the challenges, kids love an edible STEM activity, and it’s so easy for various ages to enjoy together. Print and add these free 2D and 3D shape building cards too.

SUPPLIES: Marshmallows and toothpicks

PAPER BAG #6 Car Launch

How far can you get a car to travel? Kids can feel free to add a movement source, such as a balloon, fan, or ramp! It’s up to them what they want to test. They may even want to combine several sources, test their best distance, or improve on the original design. This one is always a blast.

Kids will need access to items to build ramps, launches, and jumps (cardboard, small pieces of wood, etc.). Additionally, kids can be encouraged to build their own car first (LEGO, etc.)

Try it: balloon car or rubber band car!

SUPPLIES: Small cars, tape measure, and various materials. You may put a small race car in a bag with the challenge card for this one.

PAPER BAG #7 Paper Chain

This is one of my favorite challenges because it’s quick, non-messy, and can be done anywhere with anyone using scissors. The goal? Make the longest paper chain possible from a single piece of paper. You can read more about the paper chain STEM challenge here and grab a free printable.

SUPPLIES: One piece of paper, tape, and scissors

BONUS: PAPER BAG #8 Mystery Item

It’s a surprise! Fill the bag with whatever random supplies you want. That’s all the kids get to build an invention! Suggest they build something to solve a problem or meet a need.

SUPPLIES: Our bag includes pipe cleaners. Straws, a balloon, plastic bottle caps, plastic bottles, small cups, a Kleenex box, and random packaging items. Make sure to leave access to tape, string, scissors, and other essentials.

Make a week’s worth of paper bag STEM projects for screen-free fun.

Paper bag STEM challenges week of ideas for kidsPin

Use our paper bag STEM activity ideas as a stepping stone for more STEM ideas. Check out what you have, and think about what your kids like to do! Put together your paper bag STEM challenges from there.

Here are a few of our favorites…

More Helpful STEM Resources

Below you’ll find various STEM resources to supplement the many STEM projects on the website. From the design process to fun books to key vocabulary terms…you can feel confident providing these valuable skills. Each one of the resources below has a free printable!

Engineering Design Process

Engineers often follow a design process. There are many different design processes that all engineers use, but each one includes the same basic steps to identify and solve problems.

An example of the process is “ask, imagine, plan, create, and improve.” This process is flexible and may be completed in any order. Learn more about the Engineering Design Process.

What Is An Engineer?

Is a scientist an engineer? Is an engineer a scientist? It might not be very clear! Often scientists and engineers work together to solve a problem. You may find it hard to understand how they are similar yet different. Learn more about what an engineer is.

STEM Books For Kids

Sometimes the best way to introduce STEM is through a colorfully illustrated book with characters your kids can relate to! Check out this fantastic list of STEM books, and get ready to spark curiosity and exploration!

STEM Vocab

Think like an engineer! Talk like an engineer! Act like an engineer! Get kids started with a vocabulary list that introduces some awesome engineering terms. Make sure to include them in your next STEM challenge or project.

Questions For Reflection

Use these reflection questions below with your kids after they have completed a STEM challenge. These questions will encourage discussion of the results and increase critical thinking skills. These questions or prompts will help to promote meaningful discussions individually and in groups. Read the questions for reflection here.

Click on the image below or the link for more engineering activities to try.


  1. Good Morning. Thank you all for your hard work and dedication to STEM for youth. I am wanting to use some of your pictures to share with 4-H agents and volunteers in Mississippi. This is only for educational use. I will credit the source from which the pictures came from. If at all possible, would you please write me a short note granting me permission to use some of the pictures only for educational use.
    Sonya Smith
    Extension Instructor
    Extension Center for Technology Outreach
    Mississippi State University
    [email protected]

    Thank you in advance.

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