Princess School: The Rapunzel Engineering Challenge

With our Rapunzel engineering challenge, we practiced building a tower (and learned about foundations) as well as retelling a favorite story.One subject keeps my preschooler interested right now, and that is princesses. She loves Sofia the First. She loves the other Disney princesses. She loves ponies with long shimmering hair. She loves dressing like a princess and acting like a princess. If I can add princesses into school time, then I’ll get her attention. This week for Princess School, we did a Rapunzel engineering challenge as we built a block tower for Rapunzel to let down her hair from. Of course, then we needed to act out the story with our new scenery.

What is Princess School?

It took me a while to realize just what “homeschool preschool” meant for me and my girl. At the beginning of August, I started making lists of the preschool-themed units I would do with her this school year. It did not take me long to understand that she was not a unit study kind of person. Nor was she a worksheet do-er. She was not a check-off-the-box type of learner either. In fact, she’s a wild and rambunctious (but curious) preschooler, and anything structured cramps her style!

Even by proposing that we do a Rapunzel tower building challenge, I risked her outright rejection and instant dislike for the idea. Fortunately, she loved the idea of reading her favorite stories and, by giving me my own challenge (I was to build the garden), she was eager participate.

Princess School, then, is my attempt to build natural, interesting, and intriguing learning moments into our ordinary play time. By creating a theme she cannot resist, she eagerly joins in on a project, not realizing that we are actually learning things!

About Rapunzel’s Story

For this project, we read four different Rapunzel stories: one in our Fairy Tale Collection, Paul Zelinsky’s award-winning illustrated version, Rachel Isadora’s African-feel story, and Sarah Gibbs’ shadowy pink version. Strawberry also loves to watch the movie Tangled, of course.

Strawberry’s favorite was Sarah Gibb’s version. She liked it because the witch is only shown in shadow for the most part. Although the lovely tower is illustrated, as is Rapunzel herself and the princess, the witch almost always is obscured and only appears in a shadow play. This makes it much less “scary,” according to Strawberry.

My favorite is the gorgeous Renaissance version by Paul Zelinsky. I do agree that it is much more mature. In this, Rapunzel and the princess marry each in the tower and she is actually expecting twins when she is cast from the tower (although it is not said so explicitly). I can understand how some may not like bringing up these issues with their little ones. (Strawberry did not ask about it).

The art differs in each story. Also, the attitude of the parents differ. Sometimes the parents are portrayed as foolish. Other times, the father is saving his wife from a grave illness when he plucks the rapunzel. In the stories, the reason Rapunzel’s relationship to the prince is revealed differs. Soemtimes she misspeaks. Other times, the witch notices she is expecting a baby.

At any rate, although there are some differences in how Rapunzel’s story is portrayed, there are a few similarities. Here are the ones that Strawberry insisted our own story include:

  • A garden for the father to break in to, with the mother’s sick bed overlooking the wall
  • A tower for Rapunzel to be cast into
  • Rapunzel’s long hair
  • A bush for the prince to hide behind while he hears the witch

These were the elements we would have to create, and Strawberry was eager to get started.

The Rapunzel Engineering Challenge

To begin, we had to build the room where the sick mother lay, overlooking the wall to the garden. I helped Strawberry make the walls of a room. Then, she insisted on putting things in the garden: red is strawberries, yellow is lemons (she was surprised to learn lemons grow on trees), green is lettuce, and the flowers are pretty flowers.

Part of our Rapunzel engineering challenge: The mother is on a wall overlooking a garden. The father has encountered the witch, who demands their unborn baby!Then the father got caught by the witch and the mother lost her baby.

Part of our Rapunzel engineering challenge: The witch takes the baby and the mother and father are left alone!

Strawberry was eager to make the tower. She said it had to be thin, like in the book, with only a “castle” part on top. This turned out problematic, since it kept falling over!

Of course, this was a perfect moment for an engineering discussion. We talked about how the tower in the book was magical, so it would not fall over. Ours could not be magical and needed a better foundation, and a slightly thicker trunk! Even though we did not make it with much of a foundation, Strawberry still understood why it kept falling over!

Then, Rapunzel needed long hair. We got pipe cleaners, and we learned how to braid them. We twisted some together to get long enough hair!

The prince hid behind a bush and the witch climbed up. Then the prince climbed up. Repeat. In short, Strawberry had a ton of fun letting all of them slide up and down Rapunzel’s hair! (The witch fell because she was bad.)

We loved making a tall skinny tower for our Rapunzel engineering challenge. We tapped Rapunzel's hair on and pretended to climb it.

Lessons from the Rapunzel Engineering Challenge

We were just playing, you may say. You did not cover the alphabet, or mathematics.

But playing is how Strawberry learns. Here are the things my preschooler learned as we read, retold, and created together.

  • A story can be told in many different ways. (language arts)
  • There are main elements of a story that are more important than others. (language arts)
  • She practiced fitting and putting blocks together. (fine motor, counting)
  • A thicker foundation holds up a tower castle better than a thin one. (engineering)
  • She learned how to braid (kind of). (fine motor)
  • “School time” is fun time.

I think that last lesson is the most important one. I want Strawberry to enjoy the school time we have together. And no, she is not reading and multiplying yet. But she just turned 5. There will be time for formal learning. Right now, Princess School is what she needs. Our Rapunzel Engineering Lesson was perfect!

We used these Lego Duplo block sets:

LEGO Duplo Play with Letters

LEGO Duplo Creative Play All in One

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Our Rapunzel engineering challenge let us play as we learned about building and as we retold a favorite story. Perfect for princess preschool!

Storybook Science: Engineering

For the next month, my fellow bloggers will be sharing storybook science ideas! This week, we’re focusing on “Engineering” challenges. Click the image below to see the other posts.

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