Tips For Building With Kids

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Well-Known Member
Jan 18, 2009
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I did some looking around and didn't find a thread on this but if there is one, please feel free to point me to it.

I landed here out of desperation looking to salvage a 4-H fair project and have been amazed by the wealth of knowledge and creativity I've found. I'd love to hear the practical things that have you've found to work well with kids. I'm thinking to invite a few other 4-H kids to build with us next summer. I know, I know, they could wind up becoming the next competition... :rolleyes:

I'd be particularly interested in hearing of ideas for fin alignment since that seems to be the biggie.

To get the ball rolling:

The work area I usually have kids use for projects like this is cafeteria trays. I picked up a few at garage sales years ago and they work great. Parts don't roll off, small parts don't get lost, and you can just set the whole works out of the way somewhere for drying or quitting time. It protects the kitchen table from glue/paint/whatever plus the small sized ones even fit in the dishwasher for cleanup.

Regular sized glue bottles are hard for kids to use when doing precision work. For my oldest I cleaned out a small glitter bottle and punctured a small hole in it and it has worked out great for him. My younger son has fine motor skill challenges and what works well for him is glue poured into the lid of a plastic milk jug, and then using either a small paint brush or a cotton swab. He can get glue right where it is supposed to be with a minimal of frustration. If you use a paintbrush, be sure to get in soaking in water right after you're done or else it will ruing the brush.

Today we needed to clamp something and while one kid ran to the garage to search for clamps, I sent another for some pipe cleaners. Kids can handle them easily and with a few twists they make a decent clamp for a round object.

Dad always helps with the painting :D so I've never done that. What has worked well for them is to use a dowel that fits inside the rocket fairly tight (so that it won't drop when horizontal). Then Junior sprays the paint while Dad moves the rocket in and out of the line of fire. I don't know if they've ever swapped jobs yet--I'll have to ask--but they've turned out some really good paint jobs this way.

That's it for me so I'll be glad to hear other ideas. Who knows? Even the big kids might pick up something useful. ;)
This is a *good* thread. I will add more later, but it's late... :)

For fin alignment (works well with smaller classes) I like to have several items available that I can stand up on either side of the fin (small paint bottles are great for this). Sort of pinch the fin between the two bottles. This keeps them vertical till dry.

Another trick is *fast* white glue. Put a bead of glue on the root of the fin then press it in place on the fin line, the REMOVE it. Let the glue set up till it has a skin on it, then moisten it *lightly* with a thinner bead of glue (or even licking your finger and running it down the edge of the fin). Put that back on the fin line and *wham*, it's set. Not *dry*, but set.

We (FlisKits) will be announcing a new Skill Level 1 kit next month with the educator in mind. This kit will have the following features:

- Engine mount flush with bottom of tube. You assemble the mount, put glue inside the body tube, insert the engine mount and push the whole assembly onto the table top surface till flush. no measuring.

- Two part fin (laser cut) where you attach the fin tip onto the fin. The trailing edges are all flat so this assembly will stand up on its own with no need of holding it till dry.

- With the fin assemblies dry, you can stand the body tube up and stand the fin up along side of it while the glue dries. You can glue all 3 fins on at once then leave it to dry.

A great kit that should help out many classrooms :)

hope this helps!
Oh darnit Jim...I thought it was gonna be that awesome looking rocket on the Fliskits front page, below the FarScape. That one is sch-weet!

oh, that one is coming out later in the year, but *certainly* isn't a Skill Level 1.

Now, back to the original thread (no hijackers here, please move along :) )

Get a tray or small box for each individual kid to keep his project in. I tell the kids to bring an old (empty) Kleenex box with them----and then I always have to bring some extras for the kids who forget.

The little bottles of school glue are on sale right now (back to school!) for about 20 or 25 cents each. Stock up.

Stay away from CA in a classroom. This is a recipe for almost guaranteed disaster. Do not use CA.

For first-time rocket builders, avoid kits that require wood sealers and fillers. I know, some of you out there turn up your noses at plastic, and most of the time I do too. But when I am faced with a bunch of kids who are only half-listening, and staffed with only a few adults to ‘help’ (who themselves have probably never built a model rocket), it’s GOOD to keep things SIMPLE.

Find a kit with a plastic nose cone, preferably even one where the NC is already molded as a one-piece unit. If possible, avoid the plastic NCs where the kids have to glue in a base plug.

Try to use a kit with a plastic fin unit like the Gnome----this slides over the back of the BT for assembly. No fin alignment problems. Only problem I’ve had is that many of these fin units are badly molded and can not easily be started over the edge of the cardboard BT. You end up with a crumpled BT and a very disappointed kid. You should open these kits BEFORE the building session and inspect the fin units for proper fit. Use a hobby knife to trim away any molding flash that gets in the way, or to bevel the front edge of the fin unit to make sure that it fits onto the BT.

The Viking is a good, inexpensive starter kit with lots of performance. And that particular kit gives the kids a chance to attach the fins in a creative variety of configurations.

Get kits that use streamer recovery, or come prepared to substitute a streamer for any parachute that is included in the kits. Parachutes are a royal PITA to assemble in a class environment. Parachutes (if made correctly) make the rocket descent rate waaaaay too slow, resulting in high percentages of birds that are lost on the first flight. Parachutes are more complicated to pack and load. Parachutes are more vulnerable to heat damage (or complete failure) in case the ejection wadding is not used correctly. Use streamers.

I recommend staying away from kits with a plastic fin unit like the Alpha III (note below) unless you are going to have CLOSE adult supervision of the construction. This suggestion comes from seeing about 18 out of 20 Alpha IIIs separate at the mid-airframe joint at ejection, due to improper use of glue and inaccurate use of the assembly instructions. If you use the right glues (gorilla glue?) and the right amount of glue in the right places on the plastic-cardboard joint, the rocket stays together and works fine. But that’s asking a lot in a classroom full of first-time assemblers who are too excited and distracted with the idea of being the first to finish and go fly.

(Note: The type of construction I am referring to is where the plastic fin unit includes part of the aft airframe tube and is glued to the forward cardboard BT at a joint that is pressurized at ejection. No need to go looking for trouble.)

The “just plain” Alpha (#1225) has a full-length cardboard BT that avoids the problem joint, but adds its own complexity because you now have three balsa fins to align and glue. Oh boy.

I recommend staying away from kits with BT larger than 18mm; the extra parts and time required for the motor mount assembly are a completely unnecessary complication for first-timers. If you want to use something like Firehawk or Bandito, leave out the 13mm motor mount and just use 1/2A and A 18mm motors. The bigger motor casings are easier for first-timers to handle, and to get the igniters into.

Explain carefully to the little darlings how/why/where the shock cord anchor works. After you explain, watch them carefully because you will still have approx 25% of the class still not pay attention and glue the wad of folded-over paper right inside the front edge of the BT so the NC can not be inserted.

Launch lugs are one of the easiest pieces in a kit for kids to lose. They don’t understand what it is, they think it’s a piece of trash, and they throw them away. Attachment of launch lugs (if they are a separate piece in the design you are using, as compared to the ones that are molded integrally with the fin unit) is another step that is best done under close supervision. You may need some emery boards or sandpaper handy to help them rough up the spot where the LL will go. Check to make sure they don’t line up the LL with a fin (don’t laugh, it happens all the time). You should probably explain to them how to lightly spot-glue the LL to get it located, and then to apply a reinforcing fillet later. If you skip this step, be sure to bring extra LLs to the actual launch along with a roll of good, strong tape----- you WILL have to tape some of the LLs onto the rockets.

If possible, use models with pre-finished BT external surfaces. AVOID the use of paint, especially spray-paints. Use markers or colored vinyl tape. Get a cheapo package of stars or other stickers at the dollar store and let the kids customize their rockets.

Fire an igniter in the classroom (without the motor, of course) to explain the electrical launch system and to show them what is going to happen. And this part is especially important--- show them the burned igniter (best not to let them handle it themselves) to emphasize that there are TINY wires that can easily be pulled apart if the igniter is man-handled.

If there is a regular (non-rocket-guru) class teacher/leader, provide a kit for them too. The kids always get a kick from seeing if their teacher can do as well as they do.

Bring an extra (or two) pre-built rockets to the launch. Some of the kids might lose or damage theirs, and you don’t want them left out of the day’s activities. Or, the school principal might show up-----challenge them to fly too!
Wow, what an excellent recap.

My sister is a teacher and she's asked a couple times about using rockets in class. She was never into rockets hard-core like me, but she did build and launch a couple when we were kids, so she at least remembers the basics.

I'll be sure and send her this link for some tips on how to get things going.
Stay away from kits like the Quark, or the 220 Swift, if you are planning to build them in stock form. These things are HOT performers and about 3/4 of 'em are lost on the first flight-----you never even see where they went.

If you want to get these little kits and *convert* them with longer BT materials, a motor thrust ring, and a streamer, then they are a great source of NC and fin materials.
If you are going to use an Estes-style launch pad together with 20-25 jumping, wiggling, excited kids, get it up off the ground onto a table. Otherwise, that three-foot-long wire rod will be at the perfect height to poke a kid in the face when they run up to the launcher and bend over to see what's going on. Put the launcher up on top of a box or table or stool to get the tip of the launch rod over the heads of the kids. This will also make it much easier to attach the clips to the igniters without laying in the dirt to see what you are doing.

Cover the electrical launch lead wires (the 15 foot long wire between the little launch-button box and the clips at the launch pad) with pieces of old carpet to keep the kids from tripping on them.
This is an EXCELLENT thread for tips on giving a rocketry class for children. I am going to hold a class for my daughters brownie troop, and I am so happy I found this in our forum.

Powderburner, I can not tell you how helpful your info is. Thank you so much for posting this. I will create a post after the class and let everyone know how it goes. Thanks again !!!
-Kurt T

You need to also do a TRF search on this to dig up the other threads on this subject. Somewhere out there Jim Flis has posted some more excellent advice on classroom projects, including a well-thought-out teaching plan.

If you learn anything from your experience, please come back and share. Believe me, if there is a way to do any of this wrong, I have done it (and don't want to repeat my mistakes).

The kit of choice for me (for now) is the Quest BrightHawk because of the colorful nose cone and fin unit, and the fin unit slip-fit over the rear of the body tube (some people here on TRF said that you don't even have to use glue). It has a big white body tube that is a big hit with the kids---they can go nuts with paint, stickers, and colored tape. Uses 18mm motors so you can use A-power and keep it low. The motor mount assembly can be challenging for a class of young kids, but can also be easily pre-assembled so all the kids have to do is glue it in. I buy all I can find at HobLob with 40% off coupons and they come out at about $6 each.

Fliskits has another one, the Rhino, that looks like it is good for classroom use. Designed specifically to be used for classroom demos, it has glue-on balsa fins but a very simple approach to getting them correctly aligned and solidly attached. I have seen one fly and it is a good, stable, safe design that also has pretty good performance for a school-yard.