Build A Bridge for 21 Elephants

by Meghan

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Do you know the story of the Brooklyn Bridge? Twenty One Elephants and Still Standing tells the tale of the construction of this famous landmark, and serves as the inspiration for this week’s Architecture and Engineering activity with a fun engineering science for kids challenge.


Can You Build A Bridge for Twenty-One Elephants?

Twenty One Elephants and Still Standing tells the true story of the fourteen year construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, in easy-to-read verse with gorgeous, full page illustrations.

[bctt tweet=” ‘Taller and longer, bigger and broader, a bridge of infinite dreams!’ Can you build a bridge for 21 elephants? #STEAMedu #engineeringforkids”]

Once the bridge was completed, it linked Brooklyn and New York City.  But many were intimidated by its size, worried about its strength and questioned how long it would stand. P.T. Barnum, the creator of ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’, decided to stage a public spectacle to prove the bridge’s integrity.  He planned a circus in Brooklyn and marched his elephants, all 21 of them, through Manhattan and across the bridge to Brooklyn!

Engineering Science for Kids Challenge

For our Architecture and Engineering Activity this week, after reading the story, I gave Big M (age 4) a tray full of assorted recyclables and household objects and challenged her to build a bridge for 21 elephants.  Our supply set up included the following.

Engineering Science for Kids - Build a Bridge for Twenty One Elephants


Twenty One Elephants and Still Standing
Popsicle craft sticks
Paper towel rolls
Miniature red cups
Learning Resources Jungle Counters

The elephants for our challenge came from a set of jungle-themed counters from Learning Resources… and you might notice, some of our elephants don’t have trunks because they are actually hippos!

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I let Big M take the lead on constructing with the materials, and she opted to use the cups and popsicle sticks to build her bridge.

Engineering Science for Kids - Build a Bridge for Twenty One Elephants-2

When she could only get 3-4 across, she started building up…

Engineering Science for Kids - Build a Bridge for Twenty One Elephants-4

… but found it a little wobbly, and opted for adding lanes instead.

Engineering Science for Kids - Build a Bridge for Twenty One Elephants-6

In addition to engineering science, this also made for great counting practice.  At age 4, she’s working on counting to and beyond 20.  She’s pretty good up to about 15 before she starts to stumble.  So we worked on counting all the elephants/hippos every time she added one more.  Until, finally – all 21 were in place!

Engineering Science for Kids - Build a Bridge Three Lanes Wide

Let’s Build Up!

Want more great construction ideas for kids? Check out my latest collaborative ebook: Up! Featuring 30+ STEM challenge ideas to transform your child’s block play into an endless, hands-on learning center. Download your ebook today and get more than 100 pages of printables to go alongside the activities included. Get yours today from the Playground Parkbench store.

Engineering Storybook Science

I am super excited to be part of the month-long Storybook Science series hosted by Inspiration Laboratories.  Check out all the activities this week featuring Engineering, and all the book-inspired science all month long!

storybook science square

If you enjoyed this week’s Engineering Science for Kids challenge, be sure to check out all the posts in our Architecture and Engineering for Kids series.  We add new ones every Wednesday!  You can find them all on our STEM for Kids – Engineering board on Pinterest.

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Do you know the story of the Brooklyn Bridge? This fun book for kids tells the tale featuring PT Barnum, a circus and 21 elephants. It also inspired this week's Engineering Science for Kids challenge - build a bridge to hold 21 elephants! A great STEM / STEAM activity for preschoolers and elementary aged students


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Kathy February 18, 2019 - 8:44 am

Great activity! Is there a lesson plan that goes with this?

Meghan March 3, 2019 - 2:32 pm

There is no printable or additional instructions, beyond the post, if that’s what you mean?

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Molly March 13, 2018 - 8:31 pm

Found this post on Pinterest and it was just what I needed! I am a Girl Scout leader of a troop of girls ages 7-10. We are working on an engineering project so this book was a great thing to read. I was lucky our local library had this book in stock! We read the story and then we then took your idea and expanded on it for older girls. I had them build structures with toothpicks and clay as the bones and popsicle sticks as the floors. We used small square blocks, kind of like legos, to stand in for the elephants. The girls really had to plan and think about what they were going to do. There was a lot of trial and error until they could build something for all 21 “elephants.” Thank you for the great idea!

Meghan March 16, 2018 - 10:33 am

I’m so glad you liked it. That is an awesome expansion activity for the older girls. I’d love to see pictures if you are willing to share!

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Jenahlee Chamberlain October 19, 2017 - 3:31 pm

Where did you get your blue tray?? I LOVE this so much! Thanks for sharing!

Meghan October 19, 2017 - 4:32 pm

So believe it or not, it’s a Dollar Store appetizer tray – they still have them! Or they have in the past – they work great for almost ALL kids activities. Sorting, craft supplies. My kids love to use them for LEGO too – to sort all the pieces before they start building. Makes for easy clean-up or saving an activity to finish later too.

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Sarah S May 30, 2017 - 7:13 pm

Did you only allow a certain number of supplies to do the building? I am going to do this with a group & wasn’t sure if you gave them a certain number of cups & sticks.

Meghan May 30, 2017 - 9:03 pm

I didn’t limit it – I just put out an assortment of recyclables and craft materials to build with. My daughter gravitated towards the cups and sticks. But you could certainly add to the challenge with additional limitations, especially for older kids. For preschoolers, it’s a pretty good fine motor challenge just to balance them all on the sticks, and a math challenge to keep count!

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cnelson February 19, 2017 - 11:58 pm

Where do you get those small elephants?

Meghan February 20, 2017 - 11:17 am

Hi! They are the Learning Resources Jungle Animal counters – there’s an Amazon affiliate link to them in the post.

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Mary Wright April 5, 2016 - 11:29 pm

What a wonderful story. I was not familiar with this historical account. Love the activity too. You know me and integrating math, literature and science. I’ve really enjoyed your architectural series….fabulous design.
Your mother the early childhood educator

PGPBMeghan April 6, 2016 - 1:44 pm

Thanks, Mom! We have a few more ideas to come… stay tuned!

Trisha @ Inspiration Laboratories March 11, 2016 - 9:07 am

Such a cool story! And I love the activity it inspired. Now I want to get some elephant counters.

PGPBMeghan March 11, 2016 - 1:19 pm

Lol… that was EXACTLY my thought the first time we read it! I couldn’t find an exclusive set, hence the jungle ones and some of our ‘trunkless elephants’ aka hippos!


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