Fun with Aerodynamics: How to Make Paper Airplanes with Your Kids

Fun with Aerodynamics: How to Make Paper Airplanes with Your Kids

Fun with Aerodynamics: How to Make Paper Airplanes with Your Kids

To most kids, a blank piece of paper might not sound like fun. But with a little technical know-how and a touch of imagination, that piece of paper can become any number of lightning-fast, super-exciting model airplanes!

And paper airplanes aren’t just a blast to play with – they’re also very educational. By observing how a plane’s design affects its performance, kids can learn a lot about aerodynamics. That includes the effects of lift, thrust, drag, and gravity on a body in flight.

So are you ready to spend some quality time with your kids while teaching them something new? Keep reading to find out how to make paper airplanes and how you can use them to conduct a fascinating STEAM experiment!


paper airplane


The history of paper airplanes

It’s tough to know who first started making paper airplanes. But we have evidence that people were constructing folded paper gliders in China and Japan as far back as 500 BC!

Many famous inventors also used paper models to test their aircraft designs. Leonardo da Vinci wrote about making models of his airplane, ornithopter, and parachute designs. And in the late 19th and early 20th century, modern engineers like the Wright brothers and Jack Northrop (co-founder of the Lockheed Corporation aerospace manufacturer) used them as prototypes for building real airplanes.

But the popularity of paper airplanes as toys really took off during World War II. While materials like wood and metal were needed for the war effort, paper was still widely available. That made it a great material for toys. Customers of General Mills could even send in two Box Tops from Wheaties cereal to receive a pair of paper airplanes as a gift.

Nowadays, there are dozens of hi-tech toys that simulate flight, from remote controlled model airplanes to pilot simulation video games. But there’s still something irresistible about the simplicity and joy of quick-to-make, easy-to-fly paper airplanes.


How to make a paper airplane using A4 paper

Folding a dart plane (for speed)

  1. Fold the paper in half vertically to make a long, thin rectangle. Then, unfold it
  2. Fold the top two corners inward toward the crease to create a point at the top
  3. Fold the outside corners of the two triangles inwards toward the crease to sharpen the point
  4. Fold the paper in half along the crease
  5. On each side, fold the diagonal edge downwards to meet the bottom


Folding a kite plane (for accuracy)

  1. With your paper in portrait orientation, fold the top 1” of the paper down. Repeat this until you’re folded the paper down eight times
  2. Turn your paper over so your folds are on the back. Then, fold the paper in half vertically
  3. Turn your paper 90o so the open flaps are facing you. Then, fold the top flap up until the flap is around 1” above the crease
  4. Turn your paper over and repeat on the other side


Folding a harrier plane (for stability)

  1. Fold the paper in half vertically to make a long, thin rectangle. Then, unfold it
  2. Fold the top two corners inward toward the crease to create a point at the top
  3. Fold the top point downward until it touches a point along the crease around ½” from the bottom of the paper
  4. Just like before, fold the top two corners inward toward the crease to create a point at the top
  5. There should be a small triangle just below the point where those two corners meet. Fold this up to keep them in place
  6. Fold the paper airplane in half along the crease, but in the opposite direction
  7. Turn the paper airplane 90o so the long, straight edge is facing you. Then, fold the diagonal edge downward until it’s parallel with the long edge at the bottom


Exploring Flight & Parachutes Multipack


A fun STEAM experiment using paper airplanes

Once your kids have tried their hands at making paper airplanes, it’s time to conduct a fun hands-on STEAM experiment.

Getting ready

First, let your kids choose their favorite paper airplane. Then, head outside (or stay in if the weather’s bad) and create a target on the ground using chalk, a flag, or another kind of marker. Stand about 30’ back from the target and prepare to fly!


Testing the airplanes

Get your kids to aim at the target and throw their airplanes. After each flight, they should write down:

  • Whether the airplane landed to the left or right of the target
  • Whether it fell short or went too far
  • Whether it landed close to or far away from the target
  • How hard they threw the plane

When they feel they have enough data, it’s time to head back to the drawing board.


Solving the problem

Using their data and what they’ve learned from making practice airplanes, get your kids to make new paper airplanes they think will reach the target. They might continue using their current plan in a different way, change its design slightly, or use a new design altogether. Don’t just stick to our examples, either – they can use their imagination to create original designs!


What does this activity teach?

By establishing a clear goal, gathering test data, and adapting their current approach, your kids learn three important skills:

  • To solve problems by looking at root flaws and coming up with creative ways to overcome them
  • To gather data that’s timely, specific, and actionable to improve their future attempts
  • To report data in a meaningful way that can be translated into actual practices


Take to the skies with STEAM learning kits

Once your kids have experienced the joys of airborne experiments, they’re sure to want more. And with our aerospace-themed multipacks, you get two all-inclusive, hands-on STEAM activity kits in one package!

In the Exploring Flights & Parachutes Multipack, your kids learn how flying objects stay in the air without crashing, build their own glider, and test how objects can reach the ground safely. And in the Discovering Kites & Rockets Multipack, they design and build tetrahedron kites and assemble an awesome stomp rocket launcher. What’s more, our two-in-one multipacks even come with free shipping, as well as English and Spanish activity guides that help your kids learn in their preferred language (or practice their second!).

Order your STEAM activity kits today and introduce your kids to the wonders of aerodynamics!