Educational 3D printer projects to do with kids
As we enter 2021, many of us are stuck in regional lockdowns owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, and schools are closing. With that challenge on their hands, parents around the world are looking for solutions to keep their children out of mischief, keeping them from having too much time on their tech, away from YouTube and gaming consoles. But it isn’t just during global pandemics that parents need projects to engage children – you might be looking for fun projects that have an educational element for during school holiday times.
When you’re trying to juggle home schooling or you need to keep kids entertained during the long summer holidays alongside your job, you need projects that are multi-faceted, and provide multiple opportunities for learning. And depending on how old your children are, you might have to explain the ideas that you’re showing them a bit differently for each child. Luckily, there are some fantastic resources available, not only to create your 3D printer projects, but also to help you explain whatever theory you’re trying to teach.
What can kids learn from 3D printer projects?
Depending on whether you are home schooling or you’re keeping kids entertained through the long summer break will depend on what you want them to achieve from their 3D printer project. The great thing is, you can link 3D printing to almost every part of the national curriculum – even when it doesn’t quite seem like it is possible to. The age of the children you’re teaching will influence the sort of lessons you’ll teach them, and perhaps the depth of the lesson too.
It might not be immediately how English or history can work, but if you think creatively there are plenty of options. And don’t forget, there are many ways that one subject can lead into teaching an idea from another subject – so look for different aspects to draw out the project.
English: An easy way to get started is to 3D print something from the book they’re reading – the Harry Potter series is a perfect example, since there are already plenty of projects available on communities that you can use as a reward to encourage them to keep reading. But that doesn’t have to be the end of 3D printing for English – war poetry could link in with 3D printing a tank or a spitfire, for example, which can then lead into explaining history, engineering and so on.
Maths: If you’re already a 3D printing enthusiast, we probably don’t have to explain how maths can come into many types of 3D print projects! If you’ve got younger children you might cover shapes and measurements, and older children can use their 3D print project to practice working through bigger calculations such as ratios.
Science: Like maths, it is pretty clear already how your 3D print projects can cover lots of science. There’s plenty of scope to demonstrate theories from physics with 3D printing, and with the right type of project (such as the skeleton project we detail below) there are plenty of ways you can cover biology too. If your child has had difficulty understanding tiny concepts such as atoms, elements and compounds or other areas of the chemistry curriculum, you’ll find plenty of 3D print projects to aid their understanding.
History: While you’ll probably want to combine 3D printing projects for history with other subjects, there are plenty of cool projects that you could do with your children to encourage their learning. If they’re studying ancient civilisations such as the Greeks or Romans, you might print a model of the Parthenon or the Colosseum, while British history provides plenty of options. Viking longboats, models of historical sites – there’s plenty to inspire those prints, especially if you’ve got the design capability.
Geography: When studying planet Earth, there is a lot of scope for working with 3D prints. 3D print a globe, help children understand map contours, river or coastal landscapes as well as understanding environmental issues and the weather. There’s loads of opportunity for teaching across different subjects with many of these types of projects, as well as being able to teach moral issues such as why littering is a bad thing.
Art and design: This one goes without saying really – in fact, this might be the place that we’d start working on 3D print projects! We’d start by getting youngsters to draw their own toy – whether that is a monster, something from Minecraft, Pokémon or whichever current cartoon is their favourite. Then, (depending on their age) we’d show them, or encourage them to use whichever 3D design package you have to create the print files before printing it. For older children, the possibilities are endless.
IT: Learning how to use CAD or design packages is just one aspect of IT that you can encourage them with. If you’re using open source software for your 3D printer, then there’s a good chance you’ll be a fan of other open source packages – and with that, there’s much more to learn that can help advance their IT knowledge. There’s loads of opportunity to learn coding alongside those 3D printing projects too, which is a requirement at most schools – so getting them ahead is only going to be a benefit in the long run.
Music: Of course, you’re never going to create a Fender Stratocaster (that’s a guitar for those of us that are better at listening to, rather than playing music!) or an instrument that would provide the same quality of sound as a traditionally made instrument. But there are plenty of projects that are available to create musical instruments with your 3D printer, whether they are full size or models. There’s also plenty of ways to design and print their own unique instruments – and who knows where that might lead! We should mention though that if you’re creating musical instruments with your children, you might want to have earplugs handy….!
PE: While you can probably come up with all kinds of ways to get children moving without additional 3D printing projects, having projects that teach maths and physics and then get them running around or active in other ways is absolutely no bad thing in our opinion! There are all kinds of 3D prints that would work for encouraging exercise and play as well as learning more academic concepts – or linking it to their favourite book, in the example of the Harry Potter series! If they’ve got a bit attached to the TV or their games console, search for print projects that are linked to their latest obsession that can help to get them moving.
RE: Perhaps one of the subjects that many parents are less concerned with their children succeeding in, it is still part of the curriculum, and offers 3D printing enthusiasts loads of options to print. Check out 3D printing communities for projects to print your own religious items, such as models of Buddha, angels, models of places of worship and items that are used in worship. Don’t forget to talk about the need to be respectful of different religions and items that are used by followers of different faiths.
Where to find beginner projects
Once kids have caught the bug for 3D printing (as you probably already have yourself, if you’ve invested in a 3D printer at home!) then they’re going to have all kinds of ideas for things to create with your 3D printer. Before they have mastered how to use CAD packages, it is often simpler to spark their imagination and get them started using files that are already ready to go to print.
As we’ve mentioned before, there are loads of places online that have files available to use for free, with instructions. Here are some of our favourite places to search for simple and beginner level projects – with many of these being ideal for kids, as long as you’re supervising the print! If you’ve been 3D printing for a while, we probably don’t need to tell you about many of these resources, but we’ll cover some of our favourites here.
Thingiverse has an absolutely massive community of 3D printing enthusiasts, and a wide range of projects to download and print for free.
MyMiniFactory has 3D print designs that have been created and uploaded by users of their community. Some of these are chargeable though, so keep a close eye on the projects your children are picking!
YouMagine is a full of projects that cost nothing to download, which is ideal when you’re starting out and don’t want to spend a lot.
PinShape offers a wide range of free and paid designs to download, with many of them particularly high quality, with technical information that allows you to get your project printed quickly.
GrabCAD has some free to download projects that are ideal for first-time 3D printers.
If you’ve got a child that wants a project to adapt to their own specifications, then Repables has projects that are uploaded by anybody. That means that the quality of some of the projects may not be as high as on other platforms, but could be perfect for learning more about how to edit and adapt.
Educational 3D printer projects for kids
While there are loads of potential projects to find for yourselves on the 3D printing communities, and can create your own curriculum or project list through the summer, or to support learning through lockdowns, we thought we’d find some great projects as examples. We think some of these are fun enough to want to do for grown-ups too!
Elastic band powered glider
Creating an aeroplane that can actually fly is a great little project – especially if you’re jetting off on a holiday any time soon! Once you’ve downloaded the files and 3D printed your plane, you simply need an elastic band to make this project take off. Head out into the garden, or if your garden is on the smaller size you might want to head for the nearest big (and empty) field for a walk to test your creation. The last thing you need is broken windows, after all!
With this project you’ll be able to help kids put theories of angles and motion into action, and if you are able to measure how far the plane can fly, you’ll be able to help them understand distance as well. If you’ve got older children, you’ll be able to teach them about speed, and cover the speed = distance / time equation, which they’ll need to know for GCSE science. If you’re heading out on a windy day, you’ll be able to explain the impact of the weather on how the plane flies, depending on which way you aim the plane.
There are absolutely loads of variations of this type of project that can be found, so if the one we’ve linked to doesn’t suit your needs, you’re bound to find one that does on one of the 3D printing communities. There’s a hidden bonus for tired parents with this project too! Not only will you have loads of fun seeing how far the plane can actually go, you’ll also be able to tire the children out as they run back and forth chasing it.
Suggested age range: 6+
Teach kids about: Angles, motion, elasticity, distance, speed, weather (physics, engineering, mathematics, geography)
Files available here.
3D cube puzzle toys
This project is a much simpler one that is suitable for younger children to play with when they’re a bit more advanced than playing with simple blocks. While this project probably isn’t going to hold too much interest for older children, 3D cube puzzle toys have endless combinations, helping little minds learn about geometry and engineering concepts from a young age.
If you’re a grown-up fan of building blocks and Lego, you might print this toy at a smaller scale for your desktop – we fancy it on ours for those long Zoom calls!
Suggested age range: Age 3+
Teach kids about: Basic geometry, balance and engineering concepts
Files available here.
Bottle rocket launcher
We recommend this type of project for when it’s a hot sunny day and the kids want to play with water in the garden. Essentially pumping air into a bottle with water, in this project the print is simply to create the housing for the launch pad and nozzle. You can use an air compressor, or keep it low tech using a bike pump.
You’re going to be teaching children about pressures and forces in this project, and if your child is really into rockets and going into outer space, there is a whole section on the NASA website about rockets that you might find useful – and there’s a variation on the bottle rocket launcher project using other materials here.
While this is a great project for combining fun and understanding science, is also a great one to teach them how important safety measures are! If you’re going to tackle this project and the fun that can come from it, we strongly recommend the use of safety glasses, in case any parts fail or end up flying in the wrong direction. And finally, it should go without saying that children should never be left unsupervised with this type of setup.
Suggested age range: Age 7+ (supervised)
Teach kids about: Pressure, force (physics, engineering, mathematics)
Files available here.
There are very few adults that can say that they never played with a spinning top as a child – even if it was just one that they had out of a Christmas cracker! However, spinning tops are great for teaching balance and motion, and if you want to do a really thorough lesson, you might also print a spinning top that is unbalanced, to show how spinning time is impacted.
If you want to make this project last a bit longer and touch on more points, there’s a great lesson plan suitable for children age 8 and up here that gets children creating their own spinning top from household materials that could work well as a secondary project.
Suggested age range: 3+
Teach kids about: Energy, motion, force, engineering design, mathematical concepts (physics, engineering, mathematics)
Print files and instructions available here.
3D print skeleton
Spooky, scary skeletons aren’t just for Halloween decorations (although this project would be absolutely brilliant to do in October too!) they’re also perfect for teaching children about what is under their skin! This project is great for children who are curious about their own anatomy, but also for older children who need to learn the names of bones for their GCSE or A-level exams.
Since this particular project involves printing multiple parts that are designed to come apart and snap together, you’ll want to keep those parts away from small children.
Suggested age range: 7-8 years +
Teach kids about: Biology
Files and instructions available here.
Learning how to add, subtract, multiply and divide is much more fun – and memorable – when there is a toy involved! This rotating maths spinner isn’t high-tech, but is great to help younger children learn their number bonds from 1 to 10, and remains relevant as they move through primary school and are learning times tables and division.
This type of rotating maths toy is available to buy in loads of places online that you can buy toys, but having their own version 3D printed in the colours they love, while they wait means they’re more likely to actually reach for the toy. And frankly, having Mum or Dad print something to help them with their maths sounds like the sort of memory that many kids would love to have – even if they decide they don’t like maths in the long run.
Suggested age range: 3+
Teach kids about: Adding, subtracting, multiplication and division (primary school mathematics)
Files and instructions available here.
Children that are interested in (or obsessed with – let’s face it!) engines or aeroplanes will absolutely adore learning more about how jet engines work. Since it isn’t easy to get children up-close and personal with this type of engine, (particularly during COVID-19 lockdowns!) having a 3D printed model of one can help children understand exactly how they work. If you’re heading off on holiday on an aeroplane, why not make a lesson part of it? This Aviation for Kids mini course would be a great way to deflect their attention from their holiday countdown.
There are loads of ways to combine this jet engine print and lesson with all kinds of other cool stuff from the world of engineering and physics – or move into the history of jet propulsion and other types of transport.
Suggested age range: 6+
Teach kids about: Engineering, physics, mathematics
Files available here.
Harry Potter projects
There’s more time than ever during lockdowns and summer holidays to read, and Harry Potter is still one of the most loved series of books for children. We applaud anything that helps to get children reading more, and you might use this Harry Potter wand project as an incentive to get on and finish that book they’re going slowly with.
Need another incentive to keep them reading? Well, there are quite literally hundreds, if not thousands of Harry Potter projects for 3D printers across different 3D printing communities. We think this Deathly Hallows inspired wand holder would be a fantastic addition to a bedroom, and this Harry Potter bookmark would be a great reward for reading regularly over the course of a week or so. If you’re trying to work Harry Potter into the whole curriculum, you might try these cookie cutters for baking, and a golden snitch for playing quidditch in PE!
Although some of the later books as Harry and friends get older are darker and more intense, once a Harry Potter fan, almost always a Harry Potter fan, we think!
Suggested age range: 7+
Teach kids about: Almost any part of the curriculum can benefit from a little Harry Potter magic!
Build a 3D printer
With a desire to make, there might come a point at which your children want their own 3D printer. Rather than buying another item, why not inspire them to create their own? This project is really low budget, and uses recycled parts, so is not only low cost, but also a great way to show them how to reduce their consumption of raw materials.
This is a more advanced project, and probably for teenagers but if your child has an interest in electronics and engineering, and they want to get to grips with building their own machines this one is a good one. You’ll need a stash of old items that they can use to make it, or have access to second hand items. The best thing about this project? They get to create even more stuff with their new, self-built 3D printer!
Suggested age range: 12 upwards
Teach kids about: Electronics, engineering, computing, coding,
Files available here.
Get them to design their own 3D print projects
If you’ve got an older child, or one that is particularly creative, get them started designing their own print projects in 3D. Autodesk’s Tinkercad is a great design tool that is easy to use, and can be used for 3D design, electronics, and coding. For kids who are obsessed with Minecraft (and there are plenty of them!) there are options for doing Minecraft modelling, as well as designing with bricks and Lego. There are no downloads, and it can be used on tablets or PCs – so once you’ve got them signed in with an account (you can sign up with a Google account) it really couldn’t be easier to keep them engaged.
If you don’t want you children on your PC, getting them a very inexpensive PC like a Raspberry Pi is a great way to get them designing and working differently. We’re assuming you’ve got access to a 3D printer if you’re this far into the post – in which case, a great first project is for them to 3D print a case for their Pi! These little but powerful PCs are great to work with, and since they run most types of open source software, you can have them using open source 3D printing packages such as MatterControl or FreeCad.
Suggested age range: 10 +
Teach kids about: Almost anything – but mostly design, computing, coding
3D designs with robotics
If your children are already on board with the 3D printing projects, you can take it up a notch and get them to add robotics in. Creating a robotic arm that is controlled with Arduino software (open source software) might not be the most straightforward of projects, since there are electronics and coding required. But with the right settings, it might just be a long-term challenge that you and your child can focus on together.
If a robotic arm isn’t quite your thing, how about a robotic animal? As with all types of 3D printing projects, there are plenty of options to get your children involved in, but this robot snake is a great option. It requires printing several parts as well as the electronics, but there’s something pretty cool about being able to control a snake – especially one that isn’t going to harm you!
Suggested age range: 12 upwards
Teach kids about: Electronics, engineering, computing, coding
Useful resources for teaching children
When you’re trying to explain something to your child and they don’t quite understand it, things can get frustrating. Don’t worry, that isn’t your fault – sometimes even teachers with years of experience don’t get it quite right for every student, and it takes another person to explain the idea before the proverbial penny drops. With that in mind, don’t feel like a failure if you need to refer to another resource to succeed. Since many of us are in the same boat with home learning this year, we thought we’d mention some of the resources we refer to regularly.
We can’t talk about learning at home without mentioning BBC Bitesize. Whether your child is in their first term at primary school or they’re preparing for GCSE or A-level study (and beyond in many cases) the BBC Bitesize website has some amazing resources that follow the curriculum, and you can search for a particular topic.
This post from publishers Scholastic has 50 online resources for at-home lessons in almost all subjects, so if you’re stuck with what to teach them in the summer holidays, or you’re searching for a way to demonstrate a concept, you’re bound to find something in one of the links here.
There are (quite literally) millions of videos about all kinds of subjects on YouTube – from experts in their fields to self-taught amateurs. You’ll want to check videos for yourself before watching with the kids – unless it is from a well-known content provider. However, there is a separate section for learning-based videos, which is a good place to start.
Pinterest is another great source of inspiration and there are some amazing links to be found on there – however, after we’ve lost an awful lot of hours to Pinterest, we recommend scrolling with care, since you can lose a lot of time once you start pinning!
Although having kids at home during COVID lockdowns can be challenging, especially if you are attempting to work from home at the same time. But having projects that they can work on alongside you, that are fun and still educational will help them learn those valuable lessons and give them memories that will last forever. Who knows, they might even inform their future career choices and you could have a talented designer or engineer on your hands as a result of this type of project!
If you’re in need of materials for projects with your children, be sure to check out our range of materials. If you’ve been inspired by the projects in this article, tag us in your social media posts – we’d love to see your work!