Building challenges come in two versions: each student or team receiving the same “kit” of materials, or choosing from a selection of materials. In the latter, many children are inclined to gather up as much as possible before planning what and how they’ll build. This leads to waste, poor design, and more thoughtful students finding the supplies they need already gone.

A solution is to set up a store. Prepare some “money”. Assign values to each of the supplies, and give each student or team enough money to purchase an appropriate amount. Prepare a shopping list for the students to fill out and present to the storekeeper(s). Don’t open the store right away, but allow students or teams to examine what’s available. Confirm that a student or team has a written plan or picture of their proposed project before letting them go to the store when it opens.

The store will be very busy when it first opens. If you have multiple volunteers, consider assigning most to the store at the beginning so students don’t have to wait in line too long. Only one member of a team should go to the store to reduce crowding. As crowds thin out, send volunteers to monitor construction. One shopkeeper remains on duty until the store closes. Close the store before construction ends.

Open for business!

When a student or team runs out of money they cannot purchase anymore supplies. If a purchased item is unused it may be returned for a cash refund. It’s a good idea to have extra money on hand in case you underestimated the amount of supplies required for a successful outcome. In that event, give all students or teams the same additional funds even if they hadn’t spent all of their original money yet.


Our Great Boat Float Challenge module provides a good example of implementing a store in a building activity. It is summarized below:

Challenge: Build a “boat” to hold as much weight as possible without sinking or capsizing.

Money: Use play money or the printable “Boat Bucks” provided with the module.

A Boat Buck, from the printable handouts provided with The Great Boat Float Challenge module.
One genuine Boat Buck

Shopping List:

Note that tape must be purchased. This is very important for a successful outcome. Children will use massive amounts of tape if not limited! Tape and string, once cut, aren’t returnable. Be sure to supply your shopkeeper(s) with scissors and rulers. It can be worthwhile to have some tape, but not too much, cut ahead of time to speed things along. A good option is to have one piece of tape per student or team ready to go.

An example shopping list made from the template provided in the printable handouts for The Great Boat Float Challenge module.
An example shopping list for students

Activity Timing (for a 60 minute activity):

  • 0-10 minutes — Introduction and design
  • 10-30 minutes — Store open for purchase, construction begins
  • 30-40 minutes — Finish building
  • 40-60 minutes — Test boats

Have you tried implementing “stores” into any of your activities? Developed a clever twist that works even better? Curious how you might apply it to one of your lessons? We’d love to hear it! Drop us a note or leave a comment!

Categories: Logistics


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