8 Projects to Do with Your Family This Summer

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When it comes to group projects, there is one group that is more fun to make things with than any other — your family! I grew up remodeling our house with my mother and waxing skis with my father, activities that instilled my love for tools and creating. Now my wife and I help run a hackerspace and create projects together that you will often find at Maker Faires around the country. Making together is one of the things that makes us both happy and always keeps our relationship from getting dull.

Here are some project ideas your family will have fun collaborating on, and that will help inspire your kids to be makers, too.

Makey Makey Operation Game

I created this project last year as part of our 2016 Maker Camp program. We included a Makey Makey controller board as part of the kit sent to the participants, which gave me the basis for recreating the classic operation game. Construction is pretty easy with not much more needed than a pair of scissors. The real fun comes by trying to find the items to remove from Makey; I started with springs but any metallic object will work. As a bonus the Makey Makey opens a whole cornucopia of potential projects.

Photo by Matt Stultz

Time required: About 30 minutes

Check out the full project.

Simple Longboard Skateboard

This project comes from Make:’s first editor-in-chief, Mark Frauenfelder. If you or your kids enjoy carving the concrete waves, this build will set you sidewalk surfing in a couple of days. The project teaches a simple way to laminate your plywood to give your board extra strength to support kids and parents alike.

Photo by Mark Frauenfelder

Time required: 2 days

Check out the full project.

Rideable Hovercraft

I grew up seeing the ads in the back pages of comic books and Boys’ Life magazine for instructions to build your own hovercraft and always dreamed of gliding along on a cushion of air anywhere my adventure-seeking heart would lead me. Of course, I now know that while those hovercraft plans had more validity to them than some of the other projects, they were still not going to get me where I wanted. Later when I saw a friend fashion a hovercraft out of common materials, I knew it would be fun to create and turned it into another Maker Camp project. Build a couple and let your family race!

Photo by Matt Stultz

Time required: 2 hours

Check out the full project.

Vortex Cannon

This classic project is sure to be a blast with your family. A vortex cannon is nothing more than a bucket with a hole in the bottom, a plastic diaphragm instead of a lid, and an elastic cord to pull the diaphragm in. When you pull the plastic back and let it go, a strong gust of air is shot from the back of the cannon, strong enough to knock down plastic cups or throw back your hair. A few power tools will be needed to construct this one but it’s easy enough to make three or four for the whole family to run around with, harmlessly blasting each other. Bonus, scoop some mist from a party fog machine into the bucket before firing and watch a smoke ring shoot out.

Photo by Sydney Palmer

Time required: about 45 minutes

Check out the full project.

Stomp Rockets

Who didn’t have dreams of rocketing to the stars as a kid? Growing up, shuttle missions sparked my imagination and made me love science and technology. Making model rockets with combustible motors is fun, but finding a safe place to launch them is tricky. Stomp rockets give you a chance to both design rockets and safely shoot them to the heavens (or 20’–30′ high) in any backyard or cul-de-sac. A few bits of PVC pipe and a soda bottle will create your launch pad and set your family’s eyes to the skies.

Photo by Sydney Palmer

Time required: about 30 minutes

Check out the full project.

Messy Art Day

Another great way to get the whole family — or neighborhood, even — working on a fun project is to organize a messy art day. This is exactly what the El Cerrito Preschool Coop in California has been doing as an annual event since 2010, transforming their classrooms and playground into a variety of hands-on art activities that promote the art-making process over the finished product. The real goal, more than anything else, is to get absolutely messy.

I attended this year’s event in March with my wife and young son, and was totally thrilled with the experience, coming home with a lot of ideas I’d like to reproduce. Some of the standout activities included:

Human Spin Art: A repurposing of the playground’s tire swing into a pendulum art maker; a child lays on the tire with a paint-filled squirt bottle, then gets a push to create large looping designs on the material below.

Photo by Dana and Scott Mitchell – ECPC

Wind Tunnel: A cone of cardboard is taped to the outside of a box fan, placed on its side, and raised off the ground to allow for airflow. Kids toss buckets of tissue confetti into the high-speed wind over the fan to fill the room. You might want to encircle the space with curtains to keep the little paper pieces from going absolutely everywhere.

Photo by Dana and Scott Mitchell – ECPC

Shaving Cream Mountain: As fun as it is simple, you just need to unload numerous cans of shaving cream into an oversized container. Bring in garden utensils to help shape and sculpt the growing mass of foam. Food coloring adds a fun element too.

Photo by Mike Senese

All of the activities at ECPC incorporated everyday items, such as paint-soaked tennis balls and a maze made from flattened cardboard boxes. The utility of the pieces used only enhances the fun and reinforces the notion that being resourceful is a key to making. 

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Matt is a community organizer and founder of 3DPPVD, Ocean State Maker Mill, and HackPittsburgh. He is Make's digital fabrication and reviews editor.

View more articles by Matt Stultz
Mike Senese

Mike Senese is a content producer with a focus on technology, science, and engineering. He served as Executive Editor of Make: magazine for nearly a decade, and previously was a senior editor at Wired. Mike has also starred in engineering and science shows for Discovery Channel, including Punkin Chunkin, How Stuff Works, and Catch It Keep It.

An avid maker, Mike spends his spare time tinkering with electronics, fixing cars, and attempting to cook the perfect pizza. You might spot him at his local skatepark in the SF Bay Area.

View more articles by Mike Senese


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