Simple bird automaton

Want to try one of the best EVER craft ideas for kids?  How about a machine which makes a bird ‘fly’ up and down and round and round when you turn the handle?

This has got to be one of the most fun craft ideas for kids that we have tried!  It’s a simple automaton and is much easier to make than it looks, I promise.  Click on the picture below to watch a video of ours in action…

To make a simple bird automaton, you will need:

  • a small box (approx 15cm x 15cm)
  • scissors
  • masking or washi tape
  • a nail, screw, or very sharp pencil
  • wooden skewers
  • 6mm thickness (minimum) foam sheet
  • a drinking straw
  • a glue gun
  • something you want to animate (we made a funky pompom bird last week)

COST: a few quid
AGE: younger kids (with help!), through to adults
TIME: about an hour

How-to make a simple bird automaton:

We found the Exploratorium website hugely helpful for this activity.  They even supply a free printable instruction sheet with clear diagrams for different automata movements (we chose a simple up and down and round and round motion).


  • Make your box super sturdy; either fold the flaps at either end right inside and fix them with tape (we did this), or cut the flaps off altogether and use the spare cardboard to make triangles and tape them to the box corners (this prevents it from warping).
  • Draw 2 circles on the thick foam sheet.  Make one about 6cm across and the other slightly larger (we drew around a glass and a mug!).  Cut these out as smoothly as you can.
  • Take the smaller of the foam circles and pierce it slightly off-centre with the skewer (this will give you the up and down motion).  Remove the skewer.
  • Use the skewer to pierce holes in either side of the box and thread it through one side, then through the smaller foam circle (using the off-centre hole that you just made) and finally through the opposite side of the box.  Make sure there is space within the box above and below this circle.
  • Cut a foam rectangle (approx 3cm x 6cm) and pierce one side of this with the end of the skewer (do not allow the point of the skewer to come out of the other side of the rectangle) – this will form your handle – see picture/video.
  • Take a small piece of foam and stick it to the opposite end of the skewer to the handle.   This will stop it coming out and ensure there are no sharp pointy bits on your model.
  • Poke a hole in the top of your box, using the nail, screw or pencil.  Push a 4cm length of drinking straw into this hole and glue into place.
  • Thread another skewer  down through the straw and pierce/glue the end of it to the centre of the other (larger) foam circle.
  • Adjust the smaller foam circle underneath the larger one and test by turning the handle until you have a motion that you are happy with, then glue the smaller circle to its horizontal skewer.
  • Finally, glue your funky pompom bird (or whatever you choose!) to the top of the vertical skewer.

What will you put on the top of your automaton?

Want to try some more (moving) craft ideas for kids?  How about an origami flapping bird?

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