Building a Strong House With Loose Parts

In this lesson, children will design and build using materials found in nature. 

Content Area:

Learning Goals:

This lesson will help toddlers and preschoolers meet the following educational standards:

  • Develop beginning skills in the use of science and engineering practices, such as observing, asking questions, solving problems, and drawing conclusions.
  • Understand important connections and concepts in engineering

Learning Targets:

After this lesson, toddlers and preschoolers should be more proficient at:

  • Expressing wonder and curiosity about their world by asking questions, solving problems and designing things
  • Developing and using models to represent their ideas, observations and explanations through approaches such as drawing, building or modeling with clay
toddler with sunflower

Building a Strong House With Loose Parts

Lesson plan for toddlers/preschoolers

Step 1: Gather materials.


  • Pencils
  • Paper
  • Materials from nature for building (twigs, rocks, sticks, leaves, etc)
  • Materials to help children build with materials from nature (string, twine, tape, wire) 

Note: Small parts pose a choking hazard and are not appropriate for children age five or under. Be sure to choose lesson materials that meet safety requirements.

Step 2: Introduce activity.

  1. In large group, ask children if they have ever built with materials found in nature. Ask them to share the building experience with the group.
  2. After children have shared, explain that they will be going on a walk to collect materials that they can use for building.
  3. Go on a walk and encourage children to collect as many materials as possible so that everyone can have an opportunity to build. 
  4. While collecting materials, discuss the characteristics of the materials (ie. sticks may be smooth or textured)

Step 3: Engage children in lesson activities.

  1. Once back in the classroom, in small groups, invite children to design and draw what they want to build. 
  2. Ask children to think about the materials they want to use and incorporate them into their drawing.
  3. After the children draw what they want to build, invite them to start building using the materials collected on their walk (sticks, leaves, rocks, etc).
  4. As the children are building, ask if their house looks like their original design and if different, why did they choose to build it different?
  5. As they are building, also observe if there are any challenges that children may encounter as they are building and ask questions such as: “Do you think you need something to help these materials stay together, connect to one another, or to help stack these materials? What do you think will help these materials do that?” 
  6. Have a basket ready with some of these materials in the discovery area and encourage children to use these materials as they need them.
  7. Once the children are done building, encourage children to talk about their building process. How was it the same or different than from building with blocks or legos? Did the characteristics of the materials affect the building process and if yes, how? 
  8. Encourage children to present their design and what they built to the class in large group.  

Step 4: Vocabulary.

  • Design: To create a plan for something that will be built
  • Collect: To gather a group of things together for observation or study
  • Characteristic: A feature or attribute of an object
  • Test: To try out an idea to see if it works or not
  • Conclude: To make statements about what was learned after an observation or experiment

Early Science Glossary

Step 5: Adapt lesson for toddlers or preschoolers.

Adapt Lesson for Toddlers
Toddlers may:
  • Not be able to draw a precise design of their house before building 
  • Not be able to build as precise using some materials 
Child care providers may:
  • Skip the drawing component and go straight to building
  • Need to put some materials together to get them started (ie, tying sticks together with twine)  
Adapt Lesson for Preschoolers
Preschoolers may:
  • Want to add additional items to the natural items they were building with
  • Want to work together as a team 
Child care providers may:
  • Provide other materials to build with (cardboard, tubes, blocks)
  • Do another round of designing and building, but this time encourage them to work together  

Suggested Books

  • Rosie Revere Engineer by Andrea Beaty 
  • What’s In Your Pocket? Collecting Nature’sTreasure by Heather L. Montgomery
  • The Hike by Alison Farrell
  • Stick by Irene Dickson

Music and Movement

Outdoor Connections

Web Resources

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