STEM Challenge for Kids: Build a Shelter from the Sun and Test it with UV-Sensitive Beads

In this fun STEM activity for kids, children will design and build a structure to protect an animal craft (made from UV-senstive beads) from the sun. If the beaded animal changes color, students know the shelter did not work and have the opportunity to make improvements.

This design challenge is a wonderful hands-on science and engineering activity for kindergarten, first grade, and up through the elementary grades! (Be sure to also print out the free recording sheet at the end of the post!)

This STEM activity meets Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) K-PS3-1, K-PS3-2.

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STEM Challenge for Kids: Design a sun shelter for uv-sensitive beaded animals


When we saw this fun post on color changing beads from Fun at Home with Kids, we knew we had to buy some for ourselves. I’ve used them numerous times with my son’s preschool class and with first and second graders at my daughter’s school. They’re always a hit!

Recently, I decided to use these beads with my Science Club in a creative engineering and design activity using recyclables. This would make a great summer learning activity for kids of all ages! (This post contains affiliate links.)



Design a Sun Shelter for UV-Senstive Animals

In this activity, students first make an animal craft out of pipe cleaners and UV-senstive pony beads. The beads appear white when not exposed to UV rays, but once they’re exposed, they change colors!

Students are then challenged to use recyclables to create shelters for their sun-shy pony bead animals. Children then test out their shelters by taking them outside and seeing if their animals remain white or change colors- letting them know if their shelters work or need improvements.

Materials for STEM Activity


Building the Animal Craft

Start by building your pipe cleaner and pony bead animals. Some students made simple caterpillars or snakes by stringing pony beads onto half a pipe cleaner and rolled the ends to hold them in place. Others made more intricate animals- we had horses, dogs, snails, and lizards! You can personalize your animal by gluing some googly eyes on it.

Test out your animal. Our animals were white indoors. We then took them outside to see how they reacted in the sun. They changed colors!


uv-senstive bead animal craft for kids

Designing Sun Shelters

Next, we talked about how we protect ourselves from the sun. Kids mentioned things like sun hats, sun glasses, long sleeves, umbrellas and sunscreen. We then discussed how we could protect our beaded animals from the sun. We brainstormed ways to create various shelters using different materials.

STEM Challenge for Kids: Design a sun shelter for uv-sensitive beaded animals


I then challenged the students to design and build structures for their beaded animals that would protect them from the sun. (Some students chose to work independently while others worked in pairs or small groups.)

I placed an assortment of items on the table for the kids to use: paper plates, paper bowls, cardboard boxes, straws, paper, foil, fabric, string, popsicle sticks, plastic wrap, egg cartons, cups, styrofoam pieces from packaging, plenty of tape, scissors and markers. The children then used these materials to create structures for their animals. Occasionally they would take their shelters outside and test them with their beaded animals. When the structure didn’t work, they’d come back in and redesign certain portions.

The students got really into this activity! There were some really intricate shelters built with all kinds of hideaways, fences, bedrooms, and even one with a swimming pool!


STEM Challenge for Kids: Design a sun shelter for uv-sensitive beaded animals

Free Recording Sheet

When students are finished, they can share their design and findings on this free recording sheet.

free recording sheet for sun STEM challenge for kindergarten
This was such a fun activity and great for encouraging children to design and problem solve!



Be sure to check out STEAM Kids book and ebook for even more creative STEM and STEAM ideas!

STEAM Kids: 50+ STEAM STEM activities for kids


STEM Challenge for Kids: Design and build a structure to protect your animal craft (made with UV-sensitive beads) from the sun using recyclables! Hands-on science and engineering activity for elementary grades. (Meets NGSS for kindergarten) ~


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