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Christmas Tree Tinker Tray Engineering Challenge

The thought of doing an engineering activity with little kids sounds a bit, well, crazy. What can kids know about engineering? Heck, what do I know about it?

But trust me on this, it will work. Engineering is about problem-solving. This is a life skill every child benefits from.

A fun and creative way to work on problem-solving skills is to set up a tinker tray for your little ones. And because this is the holiday season, we’re going to make a Christmas Tinker Tray with a focus on Christmas Trees.

christmas tinker tray picture

Christmas Tinker Tray

What is a Tinker Tray?

So what exactly is a tinker tray? It’s really pretty simple. It’s just a collection of stuff laid out for your child to create or play with. In other words, to tinker around with.

You don’t need a literal tray to make a tinker project. I personally like doing mystery tinker bags. But having a tray like set up allows your children to see all of their options, which is helpful.

What good is a Tinker Tray?

A tinker tray encourages creative play and creation. It’s an invitation for your kids to be hands on and see what they can do.

How does a Tinker Tray build problem-solving skills?

Tinker tray challenges, like the ones we are doing in this post, are great for problem-solving. You offer up a question or idea and let your children create a solution.

Tinker trays provide many materials for your children to work with. But my favorite part is that they have a finite amount of materials to work with. Being creative with infinite possibilities is important, but being creative within limits matters too.

Tinker trays have a limited amount of options to work with, so your children have to deal with what they get. And that challenges them to look at materials with new eyes and find new uses for them. That makes it a great learning activity.

Christmas Tree Tinker Tray Set-Up

Now that we know how great tinker trays are, let’s set ours up. Another reason I love this sort of activity is how easy it is to put together.

Get out a tray or clear a space on your table. I got a cheap divided tray from Target, but anything will work. It’s just nice to have clear spaces to put different objects to keep things a little neater.

Add your tinker items. If this is just a regular tray I grab whatever I can find in our craft bins or that I have sitting around. Sometimes I build around a theme, but honestly sometimes it is just random. And that is fine.

But we are working with a theme here, so I have some suggestions for what to include in your tray. And almost all of these items can be found either at Target’s Dollar Spot or at your local dollar store.

Christmas Tree Tinker Tray Supplies

Remember that these are just suggestions. You don’t have to include all of them. You can include more than is on the list. Whatever you think will work well for your kids is good. Oh, and keep safety in mind.

  1. Jingle Bells
  2. Holiday Erasers
  3. Craft Sticks
  4. Play Doh
  5. Sticky Tac
  6. Tooth Picks
  7. Piper Cleaners
  8. Stickers
  9. Washi Tape
  10. Tape
  11. Marshmallows (Safety reminder: if your kids aren’t good at distinguishing edible from non-edible leave this one out. It’s easier to keep everything either edible or not.)
  12. Construction Paper
  13. Magnet Tiles
  14. Puff Balls
  15. Bottle Caps
  16. Bows
  17. Ornaments
  18. Tinsel

Pick which items you want in your tray and hand it over to your kids!

Christmas Tree Tinker Tray Challenges

As I said, you can hand this over to your children and let them have creative play. That is a lot of fun and a great way to keep your kids busy while you do holiday prep.

But I’d like to take it up a level and add a bigger element of STEM to our fun. So here are some great engineering challenges to offer up to your kids.

Challenge 1: Can You Make a Christmas Tree?

This is the base challenge. Can you make a Christmas tree out of the materials provided?

Younger kids or those who haven’t done tinker trays before might need a little bit of guidance, so encourage your kids to think about what a Christmas tree looks like. What is it shaped like? Can they create that shape with anything on the tray?

What makes a Christmas tree different than just a regular tree? Can they make that with the items on the tree?

Demonstrate how the sticky tack or play doh can be used to hold parts together. I also like to offer up tape if needed.

Then sit back and see what they come up with?

Challenge 2: Make the Tallest Christmas Tree You Can

This sounds pretty simple, just stack everything up, right? Make it a little harder by insisting that the tree has to stand up on its own. Suddenly this isn’t just about height. Stability comes into play.

Challenge 3: Make the Smallest Christmas Tree You Can

We went big now it is time to go small. What is the smallest try your kids can make? This one usually brings out some great ideas in little ones.

Keep Tinkering

As I said, this is a great one to let your kids take the lead on. They will come up with things you never thought of. So do your best to sit back and let your kids create.

Or dive in and try the challenges with them. Tinker trays are addictive. Once you start making them and see the cerativity they inspire you won’t want to stop. And this holiday STEM tray is perfect for your kids this Christmas.

So what are you going to put in your tray?

how to make a Christmas Tree Tinker Tray holiday engineering for kids with picture of tinker tray

Be sure to check out more Christmas Learning and STEM Activities!

Christmas STEM and Learning Activities

Nothing says Christmas like STEM! Okay, maybe a few things do. But embracing the holiday season is a great way to get your kids excited about science and learning!

These super fun holiday stem activities are just what your children need to get ready for Christmas and keep their learning skills sharp over the holiday break.

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