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Milk Carton Propelled Boats

What better way to explore how boats work than making your very own self-propelling boat? Using everyday household items, children will create miniature boats, decorating them just the way they like. Once ready, it’s off to the water to wind them up and watch them propel forward all on their own!

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Will the boat move or sink?

This is a fun activity that you can take to a bathtub, sink or bin filled with water. Decorate a few cleaned plastic containers and glue them together to make a boat shape. Then, add a small piece of plastic, popsicle sticks and an elastic to the back, wind it up and watch the boat propel itself forward! How far will your boat go? 

📚 Books to explore: Boats Are Busy by Sara Gillingham, Boats by Anne Rockwell, and Good Night Boats by Adam Gamble and Mark Jasper.

✨Play for longer. This activity is open-ended to doing it anywhere, like a sink, bathtub or swimming pool.

🏁 Off to the races. Extend this activity by creating two boats and having them race each other!


For this activity you will need:

2 small yogurt cups

Medium-sized rectangular plastic container

2 Popsicle sticks

Hot glue

Super glue

Duct tape 

Acrylic paint 


Elastic band 

Bath tub, sink, or large plastic container


Learning Outcomes




Self regulation


Monitoring own behavior


Step 1:

Super glue a popsicle stick to either side of your medium-sized rectangular plastic container, having them stick out 2-3 inches from the back. Reinforce the sticks with duct tape.

Step 2:

Hot glue the lid to the container.

Step 3:

Hot glue the small yogurt cup upside down onto the lid of the rectangular container. Let dry.

Step 4:

While the glue is drying, take the second yogurt cup and cut a large square the width of the boat if possible. On one side, cut two slits approximately one inch apart, going halfway down the square.

Step 5:

Decorate the boat with paint. Let dry

Step 6:

Weave an elastic band over the popsicle sticks and through the plastic square. TIP: The plastic square needs to be long enough to touch the water.

Step 7:

Fill a bath, sink or large container with water.

Step 8:

Place the boat in the water and wind up the plastic piece. Let it go and watch the boat move itself forward!

⬆️ For older preschoolers: Involve your kiddo more in the construction of the boat.

⬇️ For younger toddlers: An adult will need to do most of the construction, with the kiddos contributing most to the decoration.

Playful Questions

What types of boats are there?

Have you ever been on a boat?

Where would you want to go on a boat?

How does a boat float on the water?

What will happen if we wind the plastic the opposite way?

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