Here’s a simple truism: Playing with Legos on the floor is cool, but playing with Legos flying through the air is cooler. While this can be achieved by building airplanes and winging them across the living room, that particular game is short lived and will only teach your kid to fear their next trip to the airport. So, what if you want them taking to the sky in a way that will keep them occupied, teach a few basic STEM lessons, and not result violent explosions of bricks? Three words: Lego. Zip. Line.
What You Need
- Legos: If you don’t have one already (?!), the Classic sets ($42) are a good place to start.
- Wheels: You need these to create a pulley that hangs off the line. The Classic set contains some, but for more creative options, try the Technics vehicle sets (starting around $13) or the Crazy Contraptions set($16).
- Line: Any string or yarn will do, but parachute cord ($4.40) creates less friction and, in Lego zip lining — as in … other things — less friction is better.
- Build A Flying Machine: The specifics of your contraption will be dictated by the wheel you use for your pulley and how it connects to the other pieces. This will also determine how it needs to be weighted to balance properly on the line, as well as how ridiculous it will look (since “ridiculousness” can often equal “engagement”).
- String The Line’s High Side: You want the start point to be higher than your kid’s head, but not so high that they can’t reach it, so find a piece of furniture, door knob, or railing that qualifies and tie it off.
- Experiment With Angles: Have them hold the line’s end point at different angles while you test the machine, so they can see what happens when the line is steep and tight versus when it’s flat and slack.
- String The Low Side: Once you’ve determined the ideal angle, tie it off.
- Experiment With The Machine: How quickly your kid gets bored with the zip line is a personal issue, but it will happen eventually. Encourage modifications like different kinds of pulleys, or increasing the machine’s carrying capacity.
What They’ll Learn
- Basic Engineering Skills: Connecting the flying machine’s pulley to a contraption that can carry a Lego figure requires construction problem solving, as well as trial-and-error to ensure proper balance.
- How To Mess With Gravity: Zip lining Lego guy is a much more nuanced illustration of gravitational force than just dropping Lego guy from the top of the stairs (although that works, too). As you experiment with the line’s angle and the flying machine speeds up and slows down, your kid will see the basic fabric of the universe respond to their will.
- Speed And Velocity: Once they start modifying the machine, have your kids time the trips with a stopwatch to learn how different weights and amounts of friction effect how fast it moves. If (ok, when) the machine smashes to pieces on impact, help them figure out modifications that stabilize the machine.
The Internet Of Lego Zip Lines
- Start with this weirdly exhaustive explanation of the physics of zip lines, brought to you by West Virginia University. Try to ignore the sock monkey.
- Draw some inspiration from the very cool flying machines at Yea Dad’s Home.
- For a simple hack to get around the need for pulley wheels (and a bunch of other cool, STEM-related Lego projects), check out Little Bins For Little Hands.
- If you’ve gone through various iterations of zip line angles and machine construction and your kids are still bored, game-ify the whole thing with this clever format from Piikea Street.
If you need to up your kid’s Lego game, you’ll be shocked to learn that Amazon’s Lego shop is pretty well stocked.