One of the simplest paper STEM challenges to set up right away and covers many age ranges is the Paper Chain STEM Challenge! I love this specific challenge because as long as your kiddo can use a pair of scissors and you have a sheet of paper handy, this is a fantastic challenge.

This specific STEM challenge can be completed in a short amount of time with younger kids, but you can also add layers of complexity to it for older kids! Add this one to your resource of awesome STEM activities, and you’ll always be prepared!



I’m glad you asked because I’m sure at one point in time, you have made a traditional paper chain craft. This STEM challenge is simply a version of that activity with STEM skills thrown in with it.

CHALLENGE: Who can make the longest paper chain from a single piece of paper? Sounds too easy! Or does it?

Many STEM projects use critical thinking and math and engineering skills, and this one is no exception. Attention to detail is a must, and pre-planning is encouraged! This can be either a timed challenge or not.

TIME NEEDED: At least 15-20 minutes is usually a good time allotment if you need to keep track of the clock, but it can also end up being an open-ended exploration that can morph into new challenges.

Additionally, if you have the time, add in a design and planning stage and a conclusion stage where everyone shares what worked and what didn’t, as well as different thoughts. See some questions to ask below. Challenge the kids to have another go and redo the paper chain STEM challenge. Can they beat their original length with a new technique?

READ THIS: 20 Tips for Enjoying Science and STEM at Home!


This is one of my favorite STEM activities because it’s so inexpensive to set up. If you need help with cheap STEM supplies, click here. The FREE pack below is also a great way to introduce even more low-cost STEM activities into the mix that kids of all ages can tackle. It will keep them busy!


Let’s get started! Use this STEM activity as a fantastic way to start the day or as a way to end the day. Either way, kids have a lot of fun with it! It might just inspire more explorations throughout the day.



Turn a classic paper STEM challenge into a festive STEM challenge to decorate the tree. Add red and green paper or Christmas theme scrapbook paper and prepare to decorate your tree with paper chains. The longest chain from a single piece of paper wins!

TIP: Also perfect for Christmas classroom door decorations, library spaces, club meeting rooms, and anywhere else that needs a little holiday cheer.


Another thing I love about this quick STEM activity is the setup time! The supplies are easy to grab at a moment’s notice so that you can try this STEM project immediately. Everyone gets a sheet of paper, a pair of scissors, and tape.

But everyone gets only ONE sheet of paper, so make it count! However, you can always do multiple trials, whatever fits your needs!

STEP 1: Give out supplies to each person.

STEP 2: Give a minute or two for a planning phase (optional).

STEP 3: Set a time limit (15-20 minutes is ideal).

STEP 4: Once the time is up, have the kids lay out the chains on the table or floor to see which one is the longest.

Hint: Incorporate extra math in this step!

  • Grab a measuring tape to measure and record each one.
  • Count the links for the youngest kiddos.
  • Round the measurement to the nearest whole number or include the fractions.
  • Graph the results.
  • Make comparisons between the paper chains using < > =
  • Subtract the shortest from the longest.
  • Add all of the lengths together.
  • Estimate how many sheets of paper it would take to make a chain as long as the room using the type of chain you made. Bonus: try it!

STEP 5: If it works for you, have each kiddo share his/her thoughts on the challenge. A good engineer or scientist always shares his/her findings or results.

STEM Questions for Reflection

Ask a few questions:

Questions for reflection are a great way to start the conversation because sharing ideas and communicating findings is a huge part of the STEM process. You can grab the free printable list of STEM questions here.

  • What factors contribute to one chain being longer than the other if each is made of the same size sheet of paper?
  • What was the most challenging thing about the STEM project?
  • What would you do differently if you could try it again?
  • What worked well and what didn’t work well during the challenge?


Straw Boat Challenge – Design a boat made from nothing but straws and tape and see how many items it can hold before it sinks.

Strong Spaghetti – Get out the pasta and test your spaghetti bridge designs. Which one will hold the most weight?

Paper Bridges – Similar to our strong spaghetti challenge. Design a paper bridge with folded paper. Which one will hold the most coins?

Spaghetti Marshmallow Tower – Build the tallest spaghetti tower that can hold the weight of a jumbo marshmallow.

Egg Drop Challenge – Create your own designs to protect your egg from breaking when it is dropped from a height. 

Strong Paper – Experiment with folding paper in different ways to test its strength and learn what shapes make the strongest structures.

Marshmallow Toothpick Tower – Build the tallest tower using only marshmallows and toothpicks.

Penny Boat Challenge – Design a simple tin foil boat and see how many pennies it can hold before it sinks.

Gumdrop Bridge – Build a bridge from gumdrops and toothpicks and see how much weight it can hold.

Cup Tower Challenge – Make the tallest tower you can with 100 paper cups.

Paper Clip Challenge – Grab a bunch of paper clips and make a chain. Are paper clips strong enough to hold weight?


Want more great ways to learn with STEM at home or in the classroom? Click here.