The world around us is full of items that started in someone else’s imagination. From light bulbs and airplanes to peanut butter and shampoo, inventors have used new ideas to make the world a better place. Want to encourage students to be innovative? Introduce them to famous inventors everyone should know, and then encourage them to try one of these incredible invention ideas for kids—or come up with one of their own!
Real-Life Inventions by Kids
Kids might believe they’re too young to invent anything meaningful. Prove them wrong by sharing these inspiring stories of real-life kids who made something new that the world really needed. Then, use these innovations as a springboard to brainstorm more invention ideas for kids to try.
One of the world’s most popular frozen treats was originally invented by an 11-year-old! Learn more about Frank Epperson’s story from NPR.
Invention Idea: Invent a new and delicious portable food item, preferably one that’s healthy too.
Braille is a system of raised dots that allow those who are visually impaired to read with their fingers. This groundbreaking system was the brainchild of a teenager! Discover the story of Louis Braille at Forbes.
Invention Idea: Create a new way to help those with physical challenges communicate better with others.
Pediatric IV Backpack
When Kylie Simonds was receiving her cancer treatment, she found the large IV she had to lug around just one more frustration. To solve the problem, she invented an IV backpack to make the experience better for future kids. Read about Kylie’s inspiring story at ABC News.
Invention Idea: Design an innovative product to make things easier for kids undergoing any type of medical treatment.
Alzheimer Alert System
When Kenneth Shinozuka was 15, he wanted to find a way to keep his grandfather safe in case he wandered off and got lost. His invention, a pressure-activated messaging sock, won him worldwide acclaim. Find out more about Kenneth’s story at WebMD.
Invention Idea: Devise a new way to keep people safe in dangerous situations.
After reading yet another story about a child who died in a hot car after being forgotten by caregivers, 14-year-old Alissa Chavez decided to do something about it. Her invention, Hot Seat, notifies parents if they walk away from their child in a car seat. Here’s more about Alissa and her invention from Raising Smart Girls.
Invention Idea: Devise a product to make the lives of parents and kids easier or safer.
STEM Challenge Invention Ideas for Kids
STEM challenges are always classroom favorites, but many of them present real opportunities for kids to come up with a clever new invention. Start with these STEM challenge invention ideas, then take a look at our STEM topic pages for even more activities.
Rube Goldberg Machine
These silly machines use a series of extraordinary steps to accomplish a single simple task. Students use them to learn about chain reactions, but they can also inspire creativity when it comes to solving problems. Set a basic task, like ringing a bell, and challenge kids to come up with the wackiest possible ways to make it happen!
Learn more: Rube Goldberg Machine at Tinkerlab
This is a popular classroom STEM project that utilizes a shoebox and magnifying lenses. Once kids have the basic concept down, encourage them to come up with a more advanced version with additional features like zoom, remote control, etc.
Learn more: Smartphone Projector at The STEM Laboratory
Ideal Living Space
Using basic materials like cardboard, paper, tape, and glue, kids design a living space that seems perfect to them. Urge them to learn more about different kinds of living spaces around the world, and to think about what would make a room, house, or other space more comfortable or eco-friendly.
Learn more: Living Space Challenge at Invent.org
Composting keeps food out of landfills and creates better soil for growing crops. But not everyone has room in their yard for a compost heap. Ask students to design an indoor composter instead, one that every family can keep in their kitchen.
Learn more: Indoor Composter at Science Buddies
Many people in the world lack easy access to clean drinking water. Challenge students to come up with a clever water filter, one that’s inexpensive, effective, and easy to use.
Learn more: Water Filtration Challenge at NASA JPL
Microplastics, tiny bits of plastic less than 5 mm long, can be harmful to animal life (including humans), especially when they get into the water supply. Take the Microfiber Innovation Challenge, and devise a new way to prevent microplastics from causing harm to our planet.
Learn more: Microfiber Innovation Challenge
Oil Spill Cleanup
An oil spill can cause massive environmental damage, both in the ocean and on land. Innovate new, more efficient ways to clean up after an accidental spill, helping return the Earth and its creatures to good health.
Learn more: Oil Spill Challenge at Vivify STEM
Egg Drop Container
This is a classic school STEM challenge, but it really does have broader applications. In addition to designing a container to protect an egg from a fall, encourage kids to take the next step and propose a real-life purpose for their container.
Learn more: Egg Drop at STEAMsational
Use simple materials to create a mechanical hand in this kid-favorite STEM challenge. Or take this invention idea a step further and challenge kids to create a mechanical hand or other artificial limb that could benefit those who’ve lost their own.
Learn more: Mechanical Hand at Science Buddies
Something From Nothing
The rules for this invention are … there are no rules! It’s the ultimate freestyle challenge. Provide a variety of general supplies, but allow kids to use other items from around the classroom or house as well. If they’re having trouble getting started, ask them to complete this phrase: “I wish I had a _____ that could ______.”
Learn more: Something From Nothing at Invent.org
“Build a Better …” Invention Ideas for Kids
Many inventors got their start by trying to improve on something that already existed. Challenge kids to come up with better, more effective versions of some of these existing products:
- Portable shelter (e.g., a tent)
- Squirrel-proof bird feeder
- Pet product (e.g., a toy, bed, food/water dish)
- Toothpaste container
- Alarm clock
- Beverage container
- Garden tool
- Board game
- Educational toy
- School desk and/or chair
- Smartphone app for kids
- Toy box/storage
Invention Contests for Kids
Think you’ve come up with something really innovative? Looking for a fun classroom activity to challenge and inspire future inventors? Enter these invention contests for a chance to see kids’ innovations produced on a wider scale, and even win cash and prizes!
The brains behind this popular YouTube channel love creating the ideas of kid inventors! They accept submissions through their website, then choose their favorite innovations to build and feature in new videos on their channel.
Past winners: periscope hat, drill-powered shoes, finger forks
Students in grades 4-12 create and pitch invention ideas in a variety of categories. They have the chance to win prizes ranging from T-shirts and gift cards to a 3D printer for your school. They’ll even send you a maker kit full of valuable supplies to help you get started!
Past winners: smart recycling bin, easy parking app, water-runoff turbine
Connect with professionals in the toy and game industry when you develop and pitch a new invention for this contest. Winners may earn the chance to have their design built and sold by one of the sponsoring companies! The contest is open to kids ages 6-18 and requires a pitch video and prototype.
Past winners: Goo Shoe, Draw Into Crime, Ship of Treasure
Teachers can use the Invention Convention curriculum in their classrooms, helping students develop projects to enter into local, regional, and national competitions. It’s open to kids in grades K-12, with winners eligible for all sorts of prizes.
Past winners: Wrap-n-Go pencil holder, smart mailbox, manure mover
This STEM competition asks entrants to pick a technology they want to improve, then research and submit a project detailing their proposed ideas. The contest has different requirements and categories for various ages, so this one is great for K-12 students.
Past winners: artificial photosynthesis system, magnetic propulsion rocket launcher, mosquito trap