Chain Reactions

Chain Reactions

Below are activities that all have a Chain Reactions theme. These activities include things that will help your child develop fine and gross motor skills, problem-solving and engineering skills, and can help them engage in cooperative play, while fostering creativity and perseverance. Each theme also comes with recommended literature and movie connections. Feel free to throw in your own activities that might relate, and don’t forget to post your results to social media and tag @discoverymuse to share with everyone else! 

Fine Motor Activity

For this activity, you’ll need to gather recycled materials, tape, cardboard, aluminum foil and a small ball or car. You will be creating a mini track for your ball to travel down the wall!


  • Using the cardboard, create a large flat space to attach your track to. Tape this to a wall, a cabinet door or the edge of a table. 
  • Attach recycled materials, tubes, cardboard pieces, aluminum foil and tape to design a path for the ball. Consider drops, angles and reverses. 
  • Test your design as you go, so you can address any issues right away. 

Science Experiment

Go outside and kick a ball around. When you kick it, you are observing Newton’s First Law of Motion – an object in motion stays in motion and an object at rest stays at rest, unless acted upon by another force. Your foot is the force in this case – it can cause the ball to move. You can also use your foot to stop the ball. Friction is also at play. If the ball is rolling over bumpy land or shaggy grass, it might not move as fast or for as long. If the ball is rolling over smooth pavement or ice, it might roll quite a long ways! 

You might also be observing the Third Law of Motion – for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. This can be observed on the swings, when you kick your legs (action), you cause the swing to move (reaction)!

Physical Activity

Get some of those wiggles out while channeling your inner Rube Goldberg and create an overly elaborate way to get a ball from point A to point B. You will be working with tracks and creating some chain reactions!

  • Collect recycled materials, everyday objects, toys with wheels and more. Expect to be creative with your resources.
  • Plan out your design first. This may require some drawing/sketching of your idea, some review of your location (are you including a staircase? A drop of a ledge? A piece of furniture?), and decision on what you want your final result to be (should your ball land in a cup? Or trigger a pitcher to pour a drink? Or turn off a light?).
  • Once your design is plotted out, set out your materials. What else do you need? Gather any other pieces you think will work in your design.
  • Start building your design. Remember to test as you go so you can see any issues before you get to the end.
  • Film your creation in action when you’re done!

Conversation Starters and Research Questions

  • Rube Goldberg (1883-1970) was a cartoonist who drew designs for very elaborate contraptions to do everyday things, as well as futuristic designs. He received an engineering degree but used his art skills while working in NYC as a cartoonist for Hearst publications.  Below is one of his designs.
  • Do you know anyone who builds things? What do they build? 
  • Have you ever built something? What was it? What would you like to build?

Videos and Websites

Newton vs Goldberg: Quick video showing a Rube Goldberg Machine

OK Go Music Video: The band OK Go created a music video to go with their song This Too Shall Pass that includes the most fun and crazy version of a Rube Goldberg Machine! Check it out here!

Couch Potato Machine: This video is an interesting use of everyday things to build a Rube Goldberg Machine.

Rube Goldberg, Inc: This is a challenge posed on 3/23/20 by Rube Goldberg, Inc!

Movie/Literature Connection:

Because we know you’re stuck at home with limited access to movies and books, we tried to compile a list that connects to today’s theme that you might already have in your collection or be able to access online. These include:

Movies: There are scenes in each of the following movies that include Rube Goldberg Machines: Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang; Back to the Future; Flubber; Honey I Shrunk the Kids


Rube Goldberg’s Simple Normal Humdrum School Day by Jennifer George

Build Your Own Chain Reaction Machines by Paul Long