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Family Math Activity: Build Newspaper Structures to Develop Spatial Sense

Several shapes and structures made out of newspaper are peppered with small toys.
You can build whatever you imagine with just a few pieces of newspaper and tape.
In this activity, you will help your child develop their spatial sense by building newspaper structures together.
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Esta actividad también está disponible en español.

Make a Newspaper City to Develop Spatial Sense

This activity is an expanded version of the one seen on the video above.

Learning Goal

Children develop their spatial sense as they learn to observe and talk about an object’s structure (such as curvy or tall), where an object is in relation to another object (such as next to, to the left of, above), or how things move (such as up, down, out). In this activity, you will help your child develop their spatial sense by building a newspaper structure together.


Colorful rolls of tape are laid out on a table alongside sheets of newspaper.
Colorful rolls of tape are laid out on a table alongside sheets of newspaper.

  • Newspaper
  • Masking tape — lots of it!

Step-by-Step Instructions

1. Tell your child that you are going to build a structure out of newspaper and tape. Brainstorm what kind of structure you should build together. It can be a rocket ship, a house, a tree, anything!

2. Talk about the features of the structure you will build together. Ask your child, “Should it be tall or short?” “Wide or narrow?” You can create a tall tower, a small rectangular structure or something completely unique. Come up with a goal of what to build together. There is no wrong answer!

3. Craft building materials for your structure by rolling, bending, folding, or crumpling the newspaper. Practice manipulating the materials to see if they can form shapes that will help you reach your building goal. Ask your child, “Is this piece of newspaper straight or curved?” “Will straight or curved newspaper pieces be better to make a structure that is tall and narrow?” “What would happen if we turn or flip this piece of newspaper?” You can roll sheets of newspaper into tubes to make beams for your structure and fold newspaper into rectangles so they can be walls or a roof.

a mom holds a rolled piece of newspaper as a child wraps tape around it.
You can secure rolled up pieces of newspaper by wrapping tape around them.

4. Use masking tape to make the material keep its shape or to attach different newspaper shapes to each other. Help your child tear off pieces of masking tape to wrap around the newspaper.

5. Build the structure by connecting the newspaper shapes. Ask your child about where the shapes will go to reach your goal. “Should this piece go behind or next to the other piece?” Each new piece your child adds to the structure is a chance to talk about spatial relations. You can ask, “Should we put this newspaper tube down or across?”
TIP: After you start building, you may find you need to adjust your plan. That’s okay! Talk together about how to bend, turn or place materials a different way.

Take It Further

  • Measure your structure’s height: Use any small object like a crayon, toy block or piece of paper to measure the height of your structure! You can do this by holding the object at the bottom of the tower and putting your finger at the top of the object. Count one and then shift the object to rest on the top of your finger. Count two and move your finger to the top of the object. Continue shifting the object to rest on your finger, adding to your count and moving your finger up to the top of the object. Once you reach the top of the structure, you will know how tall your structure is!

Book Suggestion

Book cover of “Press Here” by Hervé Tullet featuring the title in blue and a yellow dot over a white background.
Book cover of “Press Here” by Hervé Tullet

In this delightful picture book, children follow basic directions to change what happens on the next page. Dots grow bigger, move across the page and more.

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Related Workshop

This activity is part of our Spatial Sense workshop, which helps parents and caregivers playfully build children's knowledge of location and position words.