9 Free High-Interest Lessons - Architecture for Kids

Bring architecture into the classroom with these fun, free lesson plans

Architecture offers a world of possibilities for learning all sorts of things, in or out of the classroom. When children and teens design and create structures, they draw upon many different skills and fields of knowledge—math, engineering, history, social studies, planning, geography, art, design, and even writing. Observation and communication are two of the most important skills used by an architect. Listed here is just a sampling of fascinating and FREE lessons about architecture for kids, but why can't these activities be fun for students of all ages?

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Futuristic towers and skyscrapers make up the skyline of Shanghai City in China
Futuristic towers and skyscrapers make up the skyline of Shanghai City in China. Photo by Mlenny / E+ / Getty Images

Middle school-aged students will learn basic ideas used by engineers and architects to design some of the world’s largest skyscrapers in this lively lesson from Discovery Education. Expand on this day-long lesson by including the many skyscraper choices in Shanghai, China and Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Discussion could also include economic and social issues—why build skyscrapers? At the end of the class, the students will use their research and scale drawings to create a skyline in the school hallway.

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Architect Jeanne Gang working with a model
Architect Jeanne Gang working with a model. Photo courtesy of owner John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation licensed under a Creative Commons license (CC BY 4.0)

Why do buildings stand up? Who designs skyscrapers? What is green architecture? Here's a crash course overview of architecture, including engineering, urban and environmental planning, great buildings, and the professions associated with the building trade. The suggested lessons can be  adapted for grades 6 through 12. In six weeks, you can cover the basics of architecture while practicing core curriculum skills. For the elementary grades of K-5, check out Architecture: It's Elementary, a curriculum guide of interactive lesson plans created by the Michigan American Institute of Architects and the Michigan Architecture Foundation.

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A student uses an Apple Mac computer
A student uses an Apple Mac computer. Photo by Adam Berry/Getty Images News Collection/Getty Images

Sure, you can download SketchUp Make for free, but then what? The Missouri 4-H and designer Lisa Hamilton-Hill have put together a fine software-based lesson plan for students from 5th grade through 12th grade. Using free software applications to "learn by doing," students can experience the design process firsthand with questions and activities that direct learning. The University of Missouri (MU) Youth Development Academy (YDA) is part of the University of Missouri Extension.

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hotograph of a model park created by an elementary school landscape architect.
Student-Designed Landscape Model. Photo courtesy Joel Veak, National Park Service, Olmsted National Historic Site (cropped)

Project planning is a transferable skill, useful in many disciplines. Children who have practiced "the art of planning" will have an advantage over those who haven't. The process of designing a park (or a vegetable garden, backyard fort, playground, or sports stadium) may end with a pencil sketch, a full-blown model, or implementation of a design. Check out the Olmsted Escapes to learn concepts of modeling, design, and revision. Learn about landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, well-known for designing public spaces like Central Park in New York City.

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Historic black and white construction photo of Golden Gate Bridge, 1930s, San Francisco, CA
View from Crissy Field in the Presidio of the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge with the roadbed being installed, San Francisco, California, 1937. Photo by Underwood Archives/Archive Photos Collection/Getty Images (cropped)

From the Public Broadcasting television show, Nova, this site lets kids build bridges based on four different scenarios. School children will enjoy the graphics, and the Website also has a teacher's guide and links to other helpful resources. Teachers can supplement the bridge-building activity by showing the Nova film Super Bridge, which chronicles the building of the Clark Bridge over the Mississippi River. For older students, download Bridge Designer Software distributed for free from Engineering Encounters.

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World Famous Bob's Java Jive Building shaped like a Coffee Pot
World Famous Bob's Java Jive Building shaped like a Coffee Pot. Photo by Vintage Roadside/Moment Collection/Getty Images (cropped)

A gas station shaped like a tea pot. A hotel that looks like a Native American wigwam. In this lesson, students examine amusing examples of roadside architecture and colossal advertising sculptures built in the 1920s and 1930s. Students are then invited to design their own examples of roadside architecture. This free lesson plan is just one of dozens from the Teaching With Historic Places series offered by the National Register of Historic Places.

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Illustration of Chrysler Building and other buildings in Manhattan, New York
Illustration of Chrysler Building and other buildings in Manhattan, New York. Artist Michael Kelly/Robert Harding World Imagery/Getty Images
The Learning Network at The New York Times takes news stories from their pages and transforms them into learning experiences for your students. Some articles are to be read. Some presentations are video. Suggested questions and lessons make the points about architecture and our environment. The archive is always being updated.

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Tower of Hanoi Wooden Puzzle by Puzzle Master
Tower of Hanoi Wooden Puzzle by Puzzle Master. Image cropped courtesy Amazon.com

Don't be fooled by this game, whether played online or by hand. Invented in 1883 by the French mathematician Edouard Lucas, the Tower of Hanoi is a complex pyramid puzzle. Many versions exist and maybe your students can invent another. Use different versions to compete, analyze results, and write reports. Students will stretch their spatial skills and reasoning abilities, and then develop their presentation and reporting skills.

In Addition to the Online Activity:

  • The Towers of Hanoi Puzzle Kindle Edition
    Buy on Amazon
  • Solid Wood Puzzle Tower of Hanoi by Learning Advantage
    Buy on Amazon
  • The Tower of Hanoi—Myths and Maths by Andreas M. Hinz, Sandi Klavzar, Uros Milutinovic, and Ciril Petr, Birkhäuser; 2013
    Buy on Amazon

Also check out new puzzle apps like Monument Valley, a beautifully designed examination of geometry and problem solving.

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Pedestrian Circle in Shanghai, China is elevated encircling a large, busy motor intersection
Pedestrian Circle as seen from the Pearl Tower, Shanghai, China. Photo by Krysta Larson/Moment/Getty Images

Can communities, neighborhoods, and cities be planned better? Through a series of activities that can be adapted to many different grade levels, children and teens learn how to evaluate community design. The students write about their own neighborhoods, draw buildings and streetscapes, and interview residents. These and many other community design lesson plans are without cost from the American Planning Association.

Architecture Lesson Plans

How can we inspire young students to appreciate architecture and design? Share your favorite architecture lesson plans on Facebook.