In this STEM / STEAM activity, kids will make a homemade pan flute using straws! After building their own pan flutes and exploring the science of sound, children will then have the opportunity to write their own songs and record the notes for those songs on the free printable recording sheet. A fun musical instrument craft and science activity all in one!
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Kids always love making homemade musical instruments. (We’ve previously made our own cardboard tube kazoos and rainsticks– such a fun way to explore sound and make music!) In this STEM activity, kids will make their very own pan flutes using straws. While making the pan flutes (sometimes called panpipes), they’ll have the opportunity to use both math and fine motor skills, while also building and creating.
When the kids have finished making their straw pan flutes, they can use them to explore sound and make music. Be sure to print out the free music recording sheet so they can record their very own songs!
See it in action here!
STEM for Kids: Straw Pan Flutes
Materials for Homemade Straw Pan Flutes
- Cardstock (Optional: Paper cutter)
- Double-sided tape
- Plastic Straws (We used wide straws for boba or bubble tea, but regular straws will also work.)
- Black Sharpie
- Optional: Model Magic or tape to close the ends of the straws
- Optional: Markers or crayons for decorating (We used these pens to decorate the black cardstock.)
- Optional: Free Printable Music Recording Sheet (in color or black and white) and a pencil
Directions for Making Straw Pan Flutes
This is how we made our straw pan flutes, although you don’t have to make them exactly as we did. I’ll mention various options you can use in each step below.
1. Take five wide straws and cut them into varying lengths. (We cut ours into the following lengths: 6 inches, 5.5 inches, 5 inches, 4 inches, and 3.5 inches.) Encourage children to measure and cut their own straws.
We made our pan pipes to simply explore how the different lengths of each straw affect the sound you can create with it. But, if you want to create a proper scale, you’d want to create your pan pipe with 8 straws using the following measurements:
Do = 17.5 cm
Re = 15.5 cm
Mi = 13.5 cm
Fa = 12.5 cm
So = 11 cm
La = 10 cm
Ti = 9 cm
Do = 8.5 cm
If doing the 8 straw method, you’ll obviously need longer strips of cardboard and tape described in the steps below.
2. . Cut two strips of cardstock to 7 inches x 1.5 inches.
Optional: Decorate your cardstock with markers, crayons, or paint.
3. Place a 7 inch strip of double-sided tape onto the inside of one piece of cardstock strips.
4. Place the longest straw on the tape first, near the left edge. You’ll want one end of the straw hanging about 3/4 inch over the side. Place the shortest straw on the right hand side of the tape, with the same amount (about 3/4 inch) hanging over the edge. Next place the middle length straw right in the center. Place the remaining two straws onto the tape. All the ends of the straws should line up about 3/4 inch over one edge of the cardstock.
We placed them on the tape in this order to better space them out equally, but it might be easier for younger kids to just put them on the tape from longest to shortest and not really worry about spacing.
5. Place the double-sided tape onto the other black strip of cardstock and place it on top of your straws, lining it up with the first piece of cardstock. Press down firmly.
6. Number each straw 1-5 with a black Sharpie.
7. Practice making sounds with your flute by resting the tops of the straws on your lower lip and blowing across them.
(You can also make noise blowing right into the straw. That’s fine too and much easier for younger children.)
8. Did you create some tunes or songs you like and want to play again? Write the numbers of each note onto the printable recording sheet. You can even give your song a name.
My kids loved writing their own songs and performing them for me. We had our very own pan flute concert!
What’s the STEM or STEAM behind this activity?
Science: What’s the physics behind making sound from a straw in the pan flute?
As you blow across the straw, the air in the straw vibrates. So what you are actually hearing is the air inside of the straw, not the flute itself. You can change the pitch by changing the length of the straw. A long straw produces a low note. A short straw produces a high note.
Engineering: Kids have the opportunity to build and design their own instrument. They can see how the placement of the various lengths of the straws affects the ability to use the flute.
Art: The pan flutes can be decorated to express your child’s creativity! They also have the opportunity to write and record their own music.
Math: Kids will need to measure and compare lengths in order to create their straw pan flute.
Ways to Extend Learning
- Try using straws of varying widths. Does the width of the straws affect the sound they make?
- Make a pan flute with even more straws of different lengths.
- Make a pan flute with both ends of the straws open and one pan flute where the straws all have one sealed end. Compare the sounds each pan flute makes.
- Can you build a pan flute with other materials, making it easier to use or hold?
- Could you build a pan flute on a larger scale? What could you use? (Try PVC pipes or cardboard tubes.)
- Research the history behind pan flutes. Which countries and cultures use them? Compare the various pan flutes you discover.
Want to Purchase a Class Set of Pan Flutes Kits?
For my after school kindergarten enrichment class, we used this pan flute kit from Discount School Supply. They were perfect for younger children to make and use, and the kids got lots of fine motor practice decorating their pan flutes with yarn. (And less prep for you!)
Even More STEM and STEAM Activities
This post is part of the 28 Days of STEM and STEAM Activities for Kids series. Be sure to head over and check out all the other creative ways to encourage a love of science, technology, engineering, art and math in kids!
Be sure to check out our STEAM Kids book and ebook for even more creative STEM and STEAM ideas!