Skip to main content

Unstable Table

Unstable Table
Unstable Table

Build your own Unstable Table with everyday materials! In this activity, you're invited to tinker with objects on a platform to figure out how to balance them in ways that don't always look like they should be possible. This activity supports investigations of balance and stability that center aesthetics, storytelling, and joy. Use the hashtag #ExploringBalance to share your ideas and builds with us!



replace this text☐ Platform: find something that can be used as the surface for your unstable table, like a piece of cardboard, a game board, a book, or a cutting board. Our preferred surface is 80pt chipboard because it’s sturdy, thin, and doesn’t bend when objects are placed on top.

☐ Base: Our favorite way to construct a base is to place a ball into a cup, yogurt container, or box to keep it steady.

☐ Objects to explore: Collect objects of different weights to explore like tissue boxes, toilet paper rolls, toys, and kitchen utensils. Tip: we prefer using objects that won't break even if they fall. 

replace this text

Use a Ball as a Base

Try placing a ball inside of a cup, on top of a toilet paper tube, on a spool of yarn or even on top of an upside-down saucer to keep it steady! To make your base extra sturdy, glue a paper towel or mailing tube to a piece of cardboard so that it can’t fall over.

Tip: Construct a taller base to add some drama to your seesaw. 



Construct Your Unstable Table

Make your own version of the Exploratorium's Unstable Table exhibit by placing your platform on top of your base. Arrange objects to see how the movement of the platform changes or to create a surprising scene.

Tip: Cut a paper towel tube into smaller sections and use them to keep materials that roll around (like marbles) in place. 



Slotted Shapes 

Create a set of slotted cardboard shapes with different patterns as an aesthetic invitation to explore balance and stability. We like to include extra cardboard, markers, and scissors so that learners can add their own shapes to the set and cut extra slots.

unstable table shapes
unstable table shapes 2


Ideas and Examples

The Unstable Table activity can support storytelling, collaboration, and creative risk-taking. You can take it outside and incorporate natural materials (even the wind!), or use it as an opportunity to look at existing materials in the space in a new way.

Tip: We like to play this video in the background as learners work so that they can look up and get inspired by what others have tried out.