The Way Things Work

Leading question
Media and other materials needed
Personal ideas or experiences to share
Supplementary titles/activities

Leading question: What do you remember about the film The Swiss Family Robinson? Isn’t it the tree-house and all the cool gadgets that go along with it?

Objectives: We often underestimate the pleasure of learning about how things work. It is fascinating and instructional to explore how things are designed, built, and function.

Duration: Evening (plus a cathedral visit)

Location: Home and a nearby cathedral (usually there is some sort of cathedral-like church within a few hours of where you live).

Media and other materials needed:

Powers of Ten (1968)

Cathedral (David Macauly)

The Way Things Work (David Macauly)

• Either blocks, Legos, Tinker Toys, or, if you want to have a treat, you could built something along the lines of gingerbread and candy structures.


1. Watch Powers of Ten to get the big and small picture of the complex universe we live in. Make sure kids can ask questions during the film.

2. Read Cathedral and talk about cathedrals you’ve visited or architecture classes where you have studied cathedral architecture. Talk about medieval technology and the amazing craftsmen and stoneworkers it took to build such beautiful buildings.

3. Go and visit a cathedral. Wouldn’t it be cool if you could take your kids to the great cathedrals of Europe, or even one of the big ones in a North American city. Hopefully, wherever you live will be near something of the sort.

4. Have The Way Things Work and blocks, Legos, Tinker Toys, or candy out and play together. Browse through The Way Things Work and build things with your kids. It is always twice as fun when the adults are playing with the blocks and building along with the kids!

Personal ideas or experiences to share:

• The first time my parents brought home a David Macauly book and how much I loved them; how I read Pyramid, Castle, and Cathedral, then noticed and knew the terminology for so many things when I had the opportunity to go to Egypt and Europe and see the pyramids, castles, and cathedrals. Maybe it would be good to pull out the old photos of the places I visited

• My imaginary games and designing floor plans for all sorts of structures, from teepees to palaces.

• Doing marionette plays in the summer where I designed the scenery, set, and special effects—including sounds, smoke, etc.

Supplementary titles/activities:

Swiss Family Robinson (1960)

Paddle to the Sea (1966)

• Children’s Museums

• Microscopes

• Puzzles

• Camping

• Models

• Chemistry sets