Create an Engineering Mystery Bag Challenge for Kids

Mystery Bag Engineering Challenges for Kids

This is a sponsored post.

If you are a fan of the hit TV reality competition, Masterchef, then you would be familiar with the concept of the mystery box challenge – it’s actually my favourite part of the show! For those who don’t know, the contestants are each presented with a box of identical, mystery ingredients from which they are required to create a mouthwatering dish. They don’t have to use every ingredient in the box but apart from a few, very basic pantry staples, what they discover in the box is pretty much it. It’s fun to see the dishes created by the talented and very creative contestants.

Taking this concept and applying it to children, learning and the great ideas children have, I recently put together two MYSTERY BAG engineering challenges for a group of great kids (aged between 6 and 12 years of age) to get creative with. The children all had lots of fun and it was fascinating to see how each approached their challenge and the use of materials.

CHALLENGE ONE: The Pom Pom Launcher

Mystery bag #1 challenged the children to make a Pom Pom Launcher;

Pom Pom Launcher Challenge

The materials available in the mystery bag were;

Pom Pom Launcher mystery bag materials

  • Pom poms
  • Large index cards
  • Paper drinking cups
  • Tape
  • Drinking straws
  • Popsticks
  • Rubber bands
  • String
  • Paper clips


Pom pom launcher

Pom pom launcher in action

Pom Pom Launcher Mystery Bag Challenge #2 firing a long way

Pom Pom Launcher Mystery Bag Challenge The Cup Launcher

Pom pom launcher bow and arrow style

Pom pom launcher prototype

CHALLENGE TWO: The Free Standing Marble Run

Mystery bag #2 challenged the children to make a Marble Run;

Marble Run

The materials available in the mystery bag were;

Marble run mystery bag materials

  • Marbles
  • Tape
  • A cardboard tube
  • Large index cards
  • Large popsticks
  • Paper clips


Marble run mystery bag planning

Marble run mystery bag challenge

Marble run mystery bag challenge #2 modifications

Marble run mystery bag challenge #2

Didn’t they all do well!

As they were completing their mystery bag task the children were all developing and applying skills and knowledge associated with;

  • Creative thinking
  • Planning
  • Problem solving
  • Spatial relationships
  • Measurement
  • Kinetic energyTrial and error
  • Task perseverance
  • Emotional control
  • A sense of achievement
  • Fine and gross motor skills

All while they were having great fun!

With this type of challenge, you can adapt each task by simplifying or extending the difficulty of the challenge – see the extension idea on the Marble Run task card above as an example. If you have never tried this type of activity with your children before, you might find the tips from this post – 5 Construction Challenges for Kids with Big Ideas, helpful.

Do you have a child who would love a Mystery Bag challenge?

Engineering mystery bag challenges for kids

You may also like:

35-Online-Educational-Resources-to-Inspire-Inventive-Thinking 5-Construction-Challenges-for-Kids-with-Big-Ideas

About the littleBIGidea Competition for Kids – THIS COMPETITION IS NOW CLOSED
If you are in Australia you have just under a month left to enter Origin Energy’s littleBIGidea competition. Twelve finalists will be flown to Sydney for the first ever littleBIGideas forum and win prizes for themselves, their teachers and their schools and three Aussie kids will win a trip to visit some of the most innovative attractions in the United States – everything from the Epcot Centre at Walt Disney World Florida to the Kennedy Space Centre. Children in grades three to eight are invited to enter their most innovative or original idea for an invention, an energy-saving technology or a simple way to make life easier; it really can be anything at all. You can find out more and enter your child’s littleBIGidea here.

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  1. Oh I love this so much! Thanks for the wonderful ideas to get me kiddos innovating. Can’t wait to try it!

  2. Ph my gosh, so many awesome ideas! Love it!

  3. Loooove this! What a fun idea!

  4. I love seeing kids getting creative. What a super fun challenge!

  5. This is such a great way to encourage problem solving skills and imagination in young inventors. It was lovely to be apart of it.

  6. Wow! So clever! Love love love this! 🙂

  7. It’s amazing how much fun (and problem solving) can be had with some simple materials and a little direction – I loved seeing all the different results! Opportunities like this really get the creative juices flowing.

  8. Loved reading this and seeing what the kids came up with. So awesome.

  9. Thank you for these wonderful ideas!! Would love to have more ideas for these mystery bags!

  10. I LOVE everything about this idea & my engineer husband will, too! Thank you so much for sharing this gem!

  11. Tracy McKenzie says:

    I just got home from an oshc meeting and one of the topics was, can anyone think of an activity to fill a day for vacation care that is titled ‘Mystery day’
    Well I think I’ve found just the activity. Thank you for this fantastic idea, it ticks all the boxes for our children. just hope my boss thinks so as well. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  12. My kids at school here in Holland LOVED this!! Thank you

  13. What an absolutely BRILLIANT idea…..thank you so much!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! My son will LOVE this!!!!!!!!!! Thank you!!!!!!!! (Can’t add enough exclamation marks!!!!)

  14. Thank you so much for these ideas! I am the science fair coordinator for my children’s middle school here in Pennsylvania and am trying to break away from the traditional science fair that most overwhelmed parents hate, but end up doing most of the work and running around. I am trying to come up with something just like this, but am looking for any more geared towards slightly older children. Any ideas?

    • Melissa says:

      Hi Tracy! What a great idea! I’d love to hear how your science fair went. What a great idea, using these challenges as a non-traditional science fair I think this is the perfect solution to our participation problem. When you get a free minute, I’d love to hear the details about what you did, how it went, and what could have been improved upon! My wheels are spinning…I can hardly wait for the science fair this year!

  15. Matt Allen says:

    We are preparing for a STEM week at our school and I love this idea!! Do you have any more mystery bag challenges?

  16. I think these activities could be used at any age. I plan to modify and use as an ice breaker for my high school art classes.

  17. Thank you for the ideas. I’m going to incorporate a makerspace component to my summer library so this is great!

  18. Christie,
    I REALLY like this idea. I am doing a session on maker spaces at a conference tomorrow, and it is going to include this, with credit given. I will also be using it in what I think will be an amazing part of our first district STEAM fair in February. I plan to have parents and students working together to take on whatever surprise task they choose. Thanks for sharing!

  19. Thank you for the ideas! My son and I are starting a science club at school and doing the pom pom launchers for our first activity next week 🙂


  1. […] can find really. Her brother is following her example. So I searched and found a great idea for an Engineering Mystery Bag that I might try. It seems geared toward older kids […]

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