Build the Tallest Shelf for the Elf STEM Challenge

The Elf on the Shelf needs your help! Using only toothpicks and gumdrops, can you build the tallest shelf for the elf in this fun winter STEM challenge?

Tallest Shelf for the Elf Challenge (2)

Oh no! The adorable Elf on the Shelf has … well … lost its shelf! Can you build him a new one? 

But wait! He has a special request. He would like his new shelf to be nice and tall. He needs to see everything you are doing, after all.

Are you up for the challenge?

How to Set Up the Tallest Shelf for the Elf Challenge



1. Print out the free printable elf template and cut out an elf. Fold the elf piece in half according to the line and fold the bottom tabs upward. The elf should be able to stand by itself.

Tallest Shelf for the Elf Challenge

2. Give your kids the gumdrops and toothpicks. You can set a limit to how many gumdrops and toothpicks they get if you wish to make the challenge even harder.

3. Explain to your kids that the shelf MUST be able to hold the elf. This means they cannot design a shelf that has big spaces in between the toothpicks, or else the elf will fall through.

4. Set a time limit for your kids to design the shelf for the elf, around 5-10 minutes for planning, and 20-30 minutes for building.

5. Start the challenge! Make sure your kids set the elf on top of the shelf when they are done to prove the elf can sit on the shelf without tipping over.

6. After the time is up, use the measuring tape or ruler to measure the height of the shelf. Record the height on the free worksheet.

7. Optional: Repeat the challenge after filling out the reflection portion of the worksheet. Are there any changes your kids can make to the shelf to make it higher and sturdier? 

Tallest Shelf for the Elf Challenge (1)

My kids love this challenge because there love the elf on the shelf! They can’t wait for ours to come out right after Thanksgiving. But since we can’t touch the “official” elf, we are using a paper elf instead for this challenge.

My son’s initial design was definitely not made for height. But he wanted to do something out of the box so he refused to do a regular rectangular shelf design. That’s the beauty of a STEM challenge though, there is no right answer! I love watching my kids contemplate their design and build their own versions of the shelf.

Tallest Shelf for the Elf Challenge (3)

Do this challenge with your kid as a quick winter STEM activity! If you have multiple teams, you have the option of having them work as a team, or they can compete against each other to see who can build the higher shelf. 

Happy building!


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