Family Fun: Inventions

rubegoldbergEvery summer has some days when it is too rainy, or too hot, to spend all day outside. For days like that, exploring ways to be an inventor can be just the ticket for creative summer fun.

1. Introduce your family to Rube Goldberg inventions. Rube Goldberg’s cartoons of amazing fantasy machines have inspired budding inventors for decades. Here’s a video to introduce one beginning challenge.

Want to read about other junior Rube Goldbergs? Try this link at

2. For some interesting dinner table conversation, try to create a list of “Things I Wish No One Had Invented.” You could have a philosophical discussion about a range of destructive inventions, or follow Time Magazine’s to create a list that includes smaller invention annoyances. I agree that Spam e-mail belongs on the list, but hairinacanI’m not sure I’d put hair-in-a-can in my top 50.

3. Take an invention field trip. Pick a local hardware store, kitchen supply, or any other store that carries a lot of gadgets and gizmos. See who can find the most unusual inventions, and imagine the problem that would inspire someone to create it. Or try an invention scavenger hunt. Search the store to find inventions to fit different categories like, “Find an invention that saves time,” “Find an invention that makes something safer,” or “Find an invention that makes another invention better.” If you have younger children, divide into groups of 2 or 3 so there is an older child or adult in each group. You could even give prizes for the most unusual entry in each category!

4. Of course, the best invention activities involve actual inventing. PBSkids baconholderhas a game for online inventing, but I’m more inspired by stories of real kid inventors. Check out this slideshow of real-life kid inventors, creators of inventions from crayon holders to wrist warmers and masculine scented candles. Each of those inventors was inspired by a problem they observed. Take a look around your home and see what needs inventing. Perhaps this is the time to start.

5. I’m not sure you want to plan this activity, but the web has several sites devoted to foods invented by accident. For example, the popsicle, so it is said, was the result of a young boy leaving a drink outside on a cold day, with the stirring stick still in it. Here’s a nice slide show of accidental food inventions, usually the result of a food item gone awry. Next time you have a food accident, could a food invention follow? We’d love to hear about it!

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