Looking for Rube Goldberg Machine™ Tasks and Materials Ideas?
This article is written entirely to encourage ingenuity, creativity, critical thinking and problem solving.
The very best way to do all of those things at once is to give your kids some materials and let them create a Rube Goldberg Machine™.
Rube Goldberg: a comically involved, complicated invention, laboriously contrived to perform a simple operation. ~Webster’s New World Dictionary
A Rube Goldberg Machine™ is silly, and thoroughly enjoyable, to take a look at.
What I love so much about these machines is that they are all about learning in a non-traditional manner and they are just so much fun!
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Rube Goldberg Ideas
There are Rube Goldberg competitions where the task is pre-chosen. Each team has to perform a very specific task.
It appears the contests are now going commercial. In 2017 the competition task is to apply a Band-aid and in 2018 it is pour a bowl of cereal (Cheerios.)
If you are interested in the official contests go here for more information.
There are a few criteria to keep in mind when creating your machines.
- They should be funny.
- They should tell a story.
- They should use everyday objects and/or recycled objects.
- They should be well-constructed.
If you are not familiar with these contraptions be sure to take a look at the resource links below before you get started. They will help you learn more about the process and give you a lot of great ideas.
Rube Goldberg Machine™ Tasks
Here are a variety of tasks from Rube Goldberg Machine Contests® in past years. Some of them were really challenging!
Rube Goldberg Activity Idea:
- Talk about the different tasks listed below and and ask your kids how they would accomplish them.
- Even if you don’t want to try to make them, talking how you might go about doing so really gets the wheels turning .
- Work together to think of some crazy contraptions that would work.
- You can even sketch them out – after all, that is what Rube did. He didn’t actually build the creations though, he just drew the comics.
Tasks from Past Rube Goldberg Contests
- Apply a Band-Aid®
- Open an Umbrella
- Erase A Chalkboard
- Zip A Zipper
- Hammer A Nail
- Inflate A Balloon and Pop It!
- Assemble a Hamburger
- Squeeze the Juice from an Orange
- Shred 5 Sheets of Paper
- Change Batteries and Turn on a 2-battery Flashlight
- Select, Crush and Recycle and Empty Soft Drink Can
- Select, Raise and Wave a U.S. Flag
- Select, Clean and Peel an Apple
- Set a Golf Tee and Tee Up a Golf Ball
- Shut Off An Alarm Clock
- Insert and Then Play a CD Disc
- Put Coins in a Bank
- Turn on a Radio
- Make Cup of Coffee
- Screw a Light Bulb into a Socket
- Unlock a Combination Padlock
- Toast a Slice of Bread
- Put the Lid on a Ball Jar
- Put Toothpaste on a Toothbrush
Easy Tasks for You to Try
If you want to try to build a crazy chain reaction yourself the first thing you need to do is choose a task.
We have listed a few easy Rube Goldberg tasks for you but feel free to come up with your own ideas.
- Put a bottle in a bin
- Water a plant
- Shut a door
- Turn something on or off (a light, a radio, an alarm)
- Ring a bell
- Break an egg
- Sort coins
- Make a ball go into a hole
- Pop a balloon
- Fire a projectile
Rube Goldberg Machine™ Materials
There are so many materials you can use when creating your invention.
Use things you already have around the house to start and add in items as you need them.
Here are our favorites.
Some good material choices are:
- LEGO Bricks – you can make things to knock down or build contraptions
- paper tubes
- funnels – use several for best effect
- piping (clear is a great choice so you can see the ball go through!)
- pvc elbows – for turns in tubing or to use to catapult a ball out of
- tubing – flexible tube is a good idea for having liquid, marbles or other objects go through
- pulleys – get a few of these and have elements of your machine drop onto other things
- dominos – perfect for a long chain. These are used quite often.
- butterfly nets – drop things into them and balance them to spin into something
- Rolls of Tape (<<< ha ha ha this one is fun)
- marbles and other small balls are perfect for knocking things over or rolling along a track.
- string or twine – for tying things together and for swinging things into something else. I really love this twine by OXO. It comes with a holder and cutter and is a bargain for what you get.
- gears! You are more than likely going to want to add some gears to your machine. They are super useful, plus they look cool.
- cardboard – so many uses! Use if for everything.
- paperclips and binder clips – great for holding things together
- pipe cleaners or chenille stems << best deal – hold things together, make things out of them or use them to drop onto another item.
- bottles – plastic bottles of all sizes for dropping, rolling and even cutting apart
- boxes (cereal, other)
- cans – good for rolling or attaching a string to and swinging into something else.
- cups – same purposes as cans and also for using liquids or for stacking a high pyramid to knock over (impressive!)
- straws and jumbo straws – various uses, these make a colorful addition to your machine.
- books – great for stacking either to make a tower to set other things on or domino style for knocking over.
- balls (ping pong, tennis, golf, other) – perfect for any type of rolling through tubes, knocking things over or bouncing onto a target.
- shoelaces – for tying things together or swinging things into something else
- Hot Wheels or Matchbox cars – for rolling along a track into another object or rolling into another object on a slanted surface.
- hot wheel track has many uses.
- game pieces (Mousetrap is great for this) – Game pieces are colorful and great for so many things.
- rubber bands – for holding tubes together, and you can also set them to shoot into something else.
- wooden train track – use the same way as Hot Wheels and Hot Wheels track
- wooden trains – you can try a motorized train such as this to run into something
- marble run tracks – perfect, just perfect! These wonderful toys can add so much to your machine. They are both colorful and fun to watch. Use to trigger another reaction.
- craft or “popsicle’ sticks – try making a craft stick bomb like this one.
- clothespins – great for holding things together. I like the mini clips the best.
- thread spools – good for rolling into something or for tying and swinging
- aluminum foil – ideal for creating any bits you need really. It can be shaped and wrapped around things to make them work better
- wax paper – we have used this to rub against something when we couldn’t quite get it together.
- wooden blocks – build and topple or hold things up. You can also stack in a pyramid or gradations
- Tinkertoys – so many useful pieces!
- pull back toys – we like to use these to start off machines.
- Slinky! – of course you have to include a slinky in one of your machines! For fun it’s a wonderful toy 😉
- walking wind-up toys – these are another great way to get things started. Try this retro robot or this old-school walker.
- woodpecker toy is a classic and is great for getting something going. 1st have something bump into it to get it started, then have it trigger another reaction
- motorized toys (think Zuzu Pets) – for starting or ending
Here are a few additional things we use in our Rube Machines. Click pictures to view items.
Making a Rube Goldberg contraption can be as complicated as you wish to make it or it can be delightfully simple. Kids of any age can participate in building one.
These are just some ideas for you – the sky is the limit.
Have your kids think up a mundane task and see if they can build a Rube Goldberg Contraption to complete the job.
Give it a try. I guarantee that Rube Goldberg Machines™ will provide an opportunity for fun and learning.
See more Rube Goldberg Ideas:
These Rube Goldberg Styles toys will help you create a wonderful RG Machine.
Check out the different track options and be sure you take a look at the Chaos Tower too! Very cool.
Click through the link as it will give you additional ideas for the types of things you can use to make your own machine.
We will be adding more Rube fun to our site so be sure to stop back or subscribe to our newsletter for all the fun things we share.