Have you ever wondered where some of your favorite things have come from? From paper bags to traffic lights, virtually everything we use on a daily basis had an inventor. This week, we will explore and learn more about some of history’s most famous inventors, as well as a few you may never have heard of before.
With each story you read and activity you complete, we encourage you to ask your child questions that will have them thinking like an inventor. What would life have been like without the invention you’re reading about? How did that person improve people’s lives? What did they have to overcome to find success? We hope this unit will foster your child’s sense of curiosity and critical thinking to make some major discoveries of their own! Click here to download this week’s skills tracker.
Note: Occasionally we include project modifications (which can be useful for including younger siblings) and upgrades (for children ready for more). We’ll mark those with the minus (-) or plus (+) symbols.
What you need:
Books (find at your local library or order below on Amazon):
- So You Want to be an Inventor? by Judith St. George (or read it here on OpenLibrary)
- Marvelous Mattie by Emily Arnold McCully (or read it here on OpenLibrary)
- The Crayon Man: The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons by Natascha Biebow (or listen to this read aloud)
- Saving the Day: Garrett Morgan’s Life-Changing Invention of the Traffic Signal by Karyn Parsons (or listen to this read aloud)
- Just Like Rube Goldberg: The Incredible True Story of the Man Behind the Machines by Sarah Aronson (or listen to this read aloud)
Optional additional reading:
- (-) The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires (or listen to this read aloud)
- Mistakes that Worked: 40 Familiar Inventions & How They Came to Be by Charlotte Foltz Jones – This is a great book for children who struggle with perfectionism to help them see how “mistakes” can create something wonderful.
Optional chapter book:
- Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women by Catherine Thimmesh
Supplies (use what you have, but here are links to shop if you need anything):
- paper + access to a printer (don’t have one? we like this model)
- manila file folder
- glue stick
- 2 paper cups
- string or yarn
- 2 paper clips (optional)
- 2 paper grocery bags
- 2 dowel rods (3/16″ and/or 5/16″)
- cylinder-shaped silicone ice tray
- 5 crayons of each color (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and purple) + extra crayons for other activities
- coffee grinder (or a fine grater will work!)
- LED light diodes
- copper tape
- coin cell battery
- ingredients for this recipe
- dominoes (or you can use printable ones)
What to do:
We recommend doing the below lessons in this order to build on each skill your child will develop, but don’t feel that you *need* to do them in this order. Do what works for you and your child. If they love an activity, feel free to repeat! Not a winner? Skip and try the next thing. Have fun!
What is an inventor? An inventor is someone who creates something new—something no one has ever created before. Some inventors have created machines or devices that have changed the world. Others have invented art forms, medicines, and even foods! If you’ve been using our unit studies for a while, you have read dozens of books about inventors from all fields of discovery. (Feel free to pull out any favorites this week!) This week, though, we’ll meet some new inventors whose inventions made a big impact in our every day lives. Let’s start with the book So You Want to Be an Inventor?
Activity 1: Our book introduced many famous inventors and their creations! Did any of them catch your child’s attention more than others? Pick a favorite inventor from the book and create a lapbook research project on them. In your child’s lapbook, answer questions like:
- When and where was your inventor born?
- What challenges did they overcome?
- What problem did their invention solve?
- Do we still use their invention today? If so, how?
Activity 2: Let’s review some of the famous inventors highlighted in the Biographical Notes of our book. (If your copy doesn’t have this section, check the OpenLibrary edition linked above!) Download and print this crossword puzzle, and then use the inventor’s name in the clue to fill in their invention in the puzzle. (Stuck on an answer? The second page of the download is an answer key!)
Activity 3: Next, let’s work on our phonogram for the week—but with a play-based twist! After reviewing the PH phonogram with your child, tell them they’re going to practice reading the words…but as a telephone operator!
Next, build a paper cup phone using this tutorial. Then, download and print these PH words and cut up the squares. Put the word squares into a paper lunch bag (or other opaque container) and let your child draw each word one at time. Finally, have them read the word they draw out loud into the phone and see if you can hear their secret message!
Is your child someone who is constantly coming up with solutions and new ideas throughout the week? Then they have a lot in common with today’s featured inventor, Margaret E. Knight! Let’s learn about her in the book Marvelous Mattie. (If your child is interested in meeting other famous—and not-so-famous—female inventors, today would be a great day to start the chapter book Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women.)
Activity 1: At the end of our book, Margaret E. Knight receives a patent for her invention…but what is a patent? A patent is an official document that gives the inventor the right to exclude others from making, using, or selling their invention for a certain time period. In exchange, the public (society) gets to learn the information in the patent to improve upon the invention or to create their own The inventor has to provide enough details in their patent for a person with ordinary skill in the subject matter to make the invention. (But no one else can sell it for money, or you can take them to court to make them stop.) (source) This video helps to explain it more.
Activity 3: Margaret had an incredible ability to look at something that existed and think of a way to make it better. In fact, this is how many inventions (and patents) come to be. For our final activity today, let’s try to do a little inventing of our own with a brainstorming activity. Start by printing these pages. (If you did our Level 2+ Entrepreneur Unit, you may recognize the format!) Work through each brainstorming style to help your child come up with some ideas and then refine their invention. If your child is having a hard time coming up with ideas, you can give them these prompts:
- a better way to get dressed
- a better way to organize their toys (or a specific toy, like LEGO)
- a better way to make breakfast in the morning
- a better way to walk the dog (or take care of another pet)
- a new kind of toothbrush
(+) If your child is feeling especially inspired, you can also have them build a prototype of their invention using craft supplies or recycled materials!
Occasionally, people invent something never before seen that helps to change the world! One example…crayons! Let’s learn more about the inventor of Crayola crayons in the book The Crayon Man: The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons. Next, your child may also enjoy this video about how crayons are made!
Activity 1: Have you ever heard of a melting point? The melting point of a substance is the temperature at which this substance goes from the solid state to the liquid one, at a normal pressure. For most substances, like water, the melting point is the same temperature as the freezing point, or the temperature at which a substance goes from a solid state to a liquid one. There are substances, though, where this is not the case (they melt at one temperature, and freeze at another). For example, agar seems to melt at 85° Celsius, but freeze at between 35°C and 40°C. Physicists call this phenomenon hysteresis. Let’s learn more about how this works with this crayon melting point experiment. (The original post uses a coffee grinder to grate the crayons, you can also use the small-hole side of a cheese grater.)
Activity 2: Next, let’s work on making tally marks using our crayons! Print these STEM cards and let your child work on creating each number. Next, work on adding cards together by presenting your child with two cards and having them combine for the sum. You can also work on skip counting by fives or tens.
(-) Working with a younger sibling? Give them these crayon shape cards and let them recreate the shapes! Or you can have them work on sorting the crayons by color or lining them up by length.
Activity 3: For our last activity today, let’s learn about a new part of speech: the adjective! An adjective is a word that describes an animal, person, thing, or thought. Adjectives include words that describe what something looks like and what it feels like to touch, taste, or smell. Adjectives can be colors or words that describe temperatures and sizes. (source) Practice using adjectives by having your child describe one of the crayons. If they’re having a hard time, prompt them to describe using their senses: what does it smell, feel, and look like? All of the words they will use will be adjectives!
Next, print these sample sentences (or you can write your own) and have your child use a crayon to circle the adjectives in each sentence.
(+) Ready for an upgrade? Throughout this and past units, your child has learned about nouns, verbs, pronouns, and adjectives. Let’s practice identifying them with this printable and some crayons. First, assign a color to each part of speech. After reading through each sentence, have your child circle that part of speech with the correct color to identify it. If they want more practice, have them write their own sentences (or copy them from a book) and find the parts of speech.
Sometimes, an invention can seem very simple, but it actually performs a very important job—it can even save lives! That is the case with the invention we’ll learn about today. Let’s learn what it is in the book Saving the Day: Garrett Morgan’s Life-Changing Invention of the Traffic Signal.
Activity 1: Let’s take a cue from Garrett Morgan and build our own working stoplight with circuit paper! Follow this tutorial.
(-) Working with a younger sibling? Let them make this paper stoplight craft that lets them work on matching size and color.
Activity 2: For our next activity, we’ll be introducing some of the basics behind writing paragraphs. If this is a new concept for your child, this hands-on approach will help them grasp how to organize their ideas. This is not necessarily a hand-writing exercise, so feel free to scribe for your child if their fingers can’t keep up with their thoughts.
First, print this sheet for a visual reminder of how a paragraph is structured, using the traffic light to help your child understand the concepts of a topic sentence, supporting sentences, and a concluding sentence.
Next, cut 1-2 one-inch strips of green paper, 4-6 strips of yellow paper, and 12 strips of red paper. Give your child a black piece of paper, a glue stick, and the strips.
Next, brainstorm the topic sentence, possibly using today’s book as a subject. For example, their topic sentence could be, “The traffic light is a very important invention.” Using a black marker, have them write (or help them write) their topic sentence on the green strips and arrange them at the top of the black piece of paper. (Cut the strips to fit the black piece of paper if needed.) It will look something like this:
Then, help them to come up with 2-3 supporting sentences that provide evidence that the topic sentence is true. For example, a supporting sentence could be, “Without traffic lights, our roads would be less safe.” Write the supporting sentences on yellow strips and arrange them under the topic sentence, cutting if necessary to fit into the paragraph format.
Finally, brainstorm the concluding sentence, which summarizes the paragraph. For example, it could be as simple as, “That is why the traffic light is an important invention.” Arrange this final strip to close your paragraph.
Once your child has arranged the strips to fit their paragraph paper, let them glue them down with the glue stick.
Activity 3: End the day with this fun (and delicious) stoplight-inspired snack. The recipe is very simple, so let your child take the lead with preparing it!
For our final day of invention activities, we’ll examine how art and inventions can intersect in surprising, fun ways! To begin, we’ll learn about a man who was a cartoonist and inventor, Rube Goldberg. The really interesting thing about Rube Golberg? Though he invented hundreds of machines, he never actually built any of them. Let’s find out more about him in the book Just Like Rube Goldberg. You can also watch this video to learn more about him. (Fun fact: Did you know that Rube Goldberg is also now an adjective? Read the definition here.)
Activity 1: Is your child just itching to create their own Rube Goldberg machine now?? Let’s bring their ideas to life! Have them draw out their plan first, and then use materials from around your home to bring it to life. If your child is having a hard time coming up with an idea, try the challenge at the end of the read aloud of our book, or read this post for some good tips for creating your own machine.
Activity 2: Dominoes pay an important role in many Rube Goldberg machines. Let’s highlight them in some math work today! (Don’t have real dominoes? Here are some printable ones.) There are many different ways to play with dominoes in math, so choose the below activity that meets your child’s current abilities:
- Domino number bonds. Print this sheet and laminate, if possible. Have your child randomly select a domino and put it in one of the rectangles. Have them write each digit in the circles next to the domino (using a dry erase marker if you laminated), and then add them together to find the number that completes the number bond. Use subtraction to help them check their work.
- Domino line up. Write the numbers 1-12 on 12 sticky notes and line then up on the floor. Next, let your child arrange the dominoes above the sticky note that represents the sum of its two digits being added together.
- Comparing Domino Fractions. Print this sheet (and laminate, if possible) and use a set of dominoes to create and compare fractions. When you first begin, use dry erase markers to fill in the bars for each fraction so your child can see it in a concrete way as they compare. As they become comfortable with the activity, have them reason on the fraction comparison first and then use the bars to check their reasoning.
Activity 3: Do you know what a cartoonist is? A cartoonist (also comic strip creator) is a visual artist who specializes in drawing cartoons. This work is often created for entertainment, political commentary, or advertising. Cartoonists may work in many formats, such as animation, comic strips, editorial cartoons, graphic novels, manuals, graphic design, illustrations, and more. Cartoons can be pictures on a printed page (also called comics or comic strips) or moving pictures on film (also called animation). For more about cartooning, check out this post.
Let’s try our own hand at cartooning! Art Kids Hub on Youtube has dozens of tutorial videos that can help your child learn how to draw favorite characters and other fun cartoons. Let them choose the one they want to try today!
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