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Make lollipop stick catapults

Put your pioneering skills to the test by creating a miniature catapult from lolly sticks. Ready, aim, fire!

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You’ll need

  • Lollipop sticks
  • Elastic bands
  • Sticky tack
  • Pom-poms
  • Plastic bottle caps

To watch in full screen, double click the video

Before you begin

  • Use the safety checklist to help you plan and risk assess your activity. Additional help to carry out your risk assessment, including examples can be found here. Don’t forget to make sure all young people and adults involved in the activity know how to take part safely.
  • Make sure you’ll have enough adult helpers. You may need some parents and carers to help if you’re short on helpers.

Planning this activity

  • You can usually find lollipop sticks with the craft supplies in high street shops, craft stores or online.
  • Decide what you’ll fire. You could use pom-poms, or anything similarly small and soft.
  • Avoid using marshmallows with Squirrels, due to choking hazards. Take a look at meal safety advice for four and five year olds to prevent choking.

What’s a catapult?

  1. Gather everyone together and ask if anyone knows what a catapult is or what they’re used for. 
  2. Explain that people have used catapults for thousands of years. They can be small enough to hold in your hand or a huge machine on wheels. In the past, catapults were often built out of wood tied together with rope, which is pioneering. Catapults can be used to hurl objects across a distance.

Make a catapult

  1. Everyone should split into pairs. Give each pair eight lolly sticks and some elastic bands.
  2. Each pair should stack six lollipop sticks on top of each other. They should secure each end of the stack with an elastic band. It’s really important that the elastic bands are tight enough to hold the bundle together, so a grown up might need to offer a helping hand. 
  3. Each pair should put one of their remaining sticks on top of the other. They should secure one end of the sticks with an elastic band. 
  4. Each pair should open the free end of the two lolly sticks, so the whole thing looks like a beak. 
  5. Each pair should push their bundle of six sticks inside the beak shape as far as it can go. It should look a bit like a wonky cross, where one of the lines is held open.
  6. Wind an elastic band around the point where the two bundles meet – the middle of the wonky cross shape. 
  7. One person in each pair should hold the catapult flat on the table, while the other person twangs the top of the double stick ‘beak’. This is the arm of the catapult, so it should twang freely. Pairs could test how well their catapult is working by trying to twang a pom-pom from the end of the arm. It might take a bit of practice!
  8. Everyone should adjust their elastic bands until they think their catapult has he maximum amount of spring. 
  9. Everyone should use sticky tack to attach a bottle lid to the end of their catapult arm. This will act as a handy bucket to hold the pom-poms.

Let the games begin!

  1. Each pair should take it in turns to practice using their catapult. They should put a pom-pom in the bottle lid bucket, push the arm down, and then release it to watch the pom-pom fly. 
  2. Everyone should test the catapults against each other. Who can make a pom-pom fly the furthest?
  3. You could try ‘best of three’, or keep going until the pom-poms run out. You could even use a bowl or bucket as a target – who’ll be the first to get a pom-pom in, or who’ll get the most in? Make sure pairs remember to share their catapult and take it in turns.

Reflection

This activity needed everyone to use their teamwork skills, as well as other practical skills. Which part of building the catapult did people find the trickiest? The elastic bands in this activity represented the ropes people use in bigger pioneering projects – they use the same skills that everyone used to make their catapults to make bigger things like tables or chairs from logs or poles and rope. What would’ve happened if people hadn’t used elastic bands, or hadn’t made sure they were tight? People’s catapults may have fallen apart, and they certainly wouldn’t have worked. Was it helpful to have a partner? When was it most helpful? People may have found it helpful during the tricky bits like attaching the elastic bands. How did everyone make sure both people in a pair did an even amount of constructing and testing? This was probably some people’s first ever pioneering project – well done!

Safety

All activities must be safely managed. You must complete a thorough risk assessment and take appropriate steps to reduce risk. Use the safety checklist to help you plan and risk assess your activity. Always get approval for the activity, and have suitable supervision and an InTouch process.

Rubbish and recycling

All items should be clean and suitable for this activity.

People can experiment with their lolly stick stack – what happens if they use four, or eight? People could also experiment with different types of elastic bands.

Anyone who struggles with fine motor skills may need an extra helping hand.

All Scout activities should be inclusive and accessible.

Take your pioneering skills outside and try to build a larger catapult with twigs, sticks, or even fallen branches.