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A few years ago, my friend Nikki at Tikkido.com held a wonderfully styled “Raingutter Regatta” for her kids in the backyard. It was totally charming! Loved it! The idea of using rain gutters for racing has stuck with me, and I’ve used the idea for several school activities.
What is really wonderful about this activity is that the kids to experiment a bit with science. They’ll quickly find out what kind of sail boat designs work in the gutters and what don’t. From being too tall for the base, to the size of the sails, all the little decisions they make will show in the performance of their boats. Pushing the boats with air down the track even involves science! The kids will want to go back with tweaks to their designs again and again until they get it just right.
As a bonus, this is also a great art project. The kids are free to decorate their boats with wild abandon. I’m sure yours will come up with some cool stuff that will make you proud.
Rain Gutter Sailboat Race Materials:
- Foam pieces
- Bamboo skewers or thin dowel rods
- Scrap papers in colors and patterns or colored foam sheets
- Ribbon scraps
- Crayons, paints, markers, etc.
- Gutter sections (most come in 10’ lengths)
- Gutter end caps
- Water-proof sealant
Assembling the Sailboats
There is really no right or wrong way to make the sailboats. The basic parts the kids will need to have are 1) a foam base 2) a mast and 3) a sail. Everything else is just décor. It’s the engineering of these three pieces that will make them work or not.
The foam pieces can be just about anything! You’ll just want to make sure that you, the adult, cut them to be small enough to fit inside the rain gutter. In the past, I’ve used cut up pool noodles, foam pieces from computer packaging, and foam sheets of insulation for the bases. The only dimensions that really matters is the width. The kids can stack the foam pieces, glue them together, and generally do whatever it takes to make their boat float the way they want.
Sails can be made in any shape or size. It’s a fun experiment to see which works better—square, circle, triangle—for the sail shape, and how many sails is really best for sailing in a rain gutter. Depending on the age of your engineering crowd, you may need to help poke holes in the paper or foam sheeting to make way for the mast.
I like using bamboo skewers for the mast, as they are extremely cost effective. It’s most likely that the skewers will have to be cut down a bit for use. For a little extra décor, add a few ribbons to the top of the ship mast!
Pop the mast into the foam to hoist the sails. After the boats are made and the glue is dry, you’re ready for everyone’s maiden voyage.
Rain Gutter Race Track Assembly
This is a super easy project to do. I think the most painful part was getting the gutters home from the hardware store!
First, make sure your gutter ends and gutters are clean and dry where you’ll be applying the sealant. It’s going to help them stick together! Pop the ends on, and place a thick bead of sealant along the inside seam. Let dry overnight at least, or according to the directions on your particular bottle of sealant.
You’re going to want to find a fairly level place in your yard to set up your gutters, or else the water will definitely pool on one side. Use shims, blocks or whatever you have to in order to shore things up!
Get out your hose and fill with water. Really, if I had just skipped to the part where I turned on the hose, my crew would have been happy, but hey, that’s summer for you! The boat part was frosting.
It’s Race Time!
To blow our boats down the track, we folded up some paper fans and created a breeze. Maybe you’ll want to use some other way to create a breeze, you’re welcome to be creative!
Kind of like this kid who couldn’t stand his sister was beating him so he used his own breath…
Add this STEM activity to your summer camp repertoire, and you’ll have hours of fun this summer!