My 5 year old son and 3 year old daughter are currently OBSESSED with making paper airplanes. My son brings home at least two paper airplanes from school every day that he has folded with his friends. When I’m home with my daughter, she usually asks me to fold her a paper airplane about once a day, and when big brother is home she asks him. Now, she has started attempting to fold them herself, and she’s actually doing a really great job!

Once they have the paper airplanes folded they let them fly. They fly the planes through the air testing whose plane can go the fastest, highest, furthest, or shortest distance. Sometimes they try to see if the plane can do tricks, like loops, and spins. Sometimes they hold the plane in their hands and run around the house making airplane noises.

Sometimes the best part about making paper airplanes is decorating them!
My son is constantly creating new types of paper airplanes

I find paper airplanes everywhere. In their rooms, bathrooms, the kitchen, under my desk chair…but I don’t mind at all. The more paper airplanes they make the more they are learning many STEAM skills. 🙂

Making paper airplanes is an awesome classic STEM/STEAM activity for kids. In this post I’m going to share instructions on making four types of simple paper airplanes, then how you and your kids can test the different airplanes for which fly fastest, glides longest, and more!

Where’s the STEM/STEAM in making paper airplanes?

The STEM skills your child is building while making paper airplanes are:

  • Creativity
  • How to follow instructions
  • Problem solving
  • Basic understanding of the forces of flight

Let’s talk about each skill individually. First, and one of the most important in my mind, is creativity. This is what gives us the A to turn STEM to STEAM and is so important for children’s development. Making paper airplanes can be an extremely creative process. From picking the color of the paper, or better yet coloring the paper themselves with patterns, pictures, and designs, to deciding which type and style of airplane to fold there is lots of room for creative exploration in this activity.

To learn to fold a paper airplanes children have to be able and willing to follow instructions. These are two separate points that are equally important to following instructions. They may be mature enough to be able read or listen to instructions and complete the steps, but they have to also be willing to follow those steps exactly. Some kids get too excited and get ahead of themselves and don’t want to wait to hear the next step. This will cause them to miss steps and the plane will fail. It is a great lesson to be willing to slow down, and follow the steps closely.

Troubleshooting the paper airplane’s fold or flight is a great lesson in problem solving for kids. Why did the airplane immediately crash? Why does sister’s plane fly further than brother’s? Why is one plane faster than the other? What modifications can be made to correct these problems? Challenge your child to come up with the answers on their own, and when they can’t help them by figuring it out together.

Finally, your kids will learn about the four forces of flight: lift, weight, thrust, and drag. These four forces must be balanced in order for a plane (paper or commercial) to fly. As the paper airplane flies through the air, lift holds it up. You gave the paper airplane a forward thrust with your arm. Drag from the air made the paper airplane slow down. The paper’s weight, along with gravity, brings the paper airplane back to the ground.

If your child is asking you how the plane flies, you can explain each of the four forces using my descriptions above. Even if you don’t explain the forces they are learning about these things when they see their airplane fly. When they eventually learn about these terms in school, maybe they’ll remember how these forces acted on the paper airplanes they built as a kid. 😉

Lift: The force that causes the airplane to rise up and holds it in the air. It is created by the wings of the airplane, which push air down.

Weight: The force that acts in a downward direction on the plane. The weight of the airplane, along with gravity act opposite to lift in keeping the airplane flying. In order for an airplane to fly, the lift force must be greater than the force of weight.

Thrust: The force that propels the plane in the direction of motion. It is created by your arms strength and motion forward when throwing a paper airplane, or by the engines, rocket, or propellers of larger aircrafts.

Drag: The force that acts opposite the direction of motion, slowing the plane down. It is caused by friction and air resistance. The front of an airplane is narrow to create less drag.

Check out these awesome resources that I referenced while creating this post. You will find even more paper airplane ideas and instructions on these sites:


Below you’ll find instructions (including photos and videos) on how to fold four simple paper airplanes. This is a great activity to do together with your children of any age. Younger kids (~age 2-3) can color the paper, watch you fold, help press the creases, and then they can have fun throwing the planes to make them fly. Maybe they’ll start to fold the paper airplanes themselves after observing you do it a few times. Older kids (~ages 4+) can begin following the instructions and fold the plane themselves.

My tips for making these planes with your kids a better experience:

  • Carefully and patiently help them line up the ends of paper to make them even BEFORE creasing a fold.
  • Emphasize the importance of making strong crease with each fold.
  • If it’s not perfect, who cares! Even with a few mistakes, the plane will likely still fly, and maybe a bad fold on one side will make the plane fly curved towards one direction. That is a cool learning experience, and maybe the will like a curved flying plane better than a straight shooter!
  • When throwing the paper airplanes, use a light grip, a quick throw, and release when your hand is level with the ground or slightly before.

The following safety precautions and materials are applicable to all four paper airplanes we will be creating below.

Safety:

Since we are using paper, there is a risk of paper cuts. To try to minimize this risk, handle the paper at the folded creases rather than the edges. If a paper cut does occur, immediately clean and bandage the lesion before continuing with the activity.

When the paper airplane is folded, there is a pointed tip. Please remember to instruct your child not to throw the paper airplane directly at anyone, and especially at faces. The nose of the paper airplane is pretty soft (because it’s made of paper), but can be painful and potentially harmful if it is thrown at or into an eye ball. For this reason, please insist that paper airplanes are NEVER thrown towards faces.

Materials Needed:

  • Letter size (8.5″ x 11″) sheet of printer paper
  • Crayons, markers, or paint to decorate the paper (OPTIONAL)

#1: The Classic Dart Paper Airplane

This is the first paper airplane I learned to make and the only one I can easily do without thinking of following instructions. It is a simple and classic plane flies far with decent glide time.

Instructions:

STEP 1: Lay out your copy paper horizontally on a clean table or desk in front of you

STEP 2 (OPTIONAL): Color both sides of your paper with designs and patterns that will decorate your folded paper airplane

STEP 3: Fold the paper in half long ways (remember to use strong creases with each fold), then reopen the paper

STEP 4: Turn the paper vertical and open it up again

STEP 5: Fold the top right corner on a diagonal towards the center line, repeat on the left side (your paper should now resemble a house)

STEP 6: Repeat STEP 5, again folding the top right corner (starting at the newly folded crease) in towards the center, repeat on the left side (your paper should now look like a long triangle with about 1″ of paper not folded at the bottom)

STEP 7: Refold the plane in half long ways, along the center crease you created in STEP 3

STEP 8: With the paper lying with the crease facing you, fold back the top edge down to meet the middle crease, flip the paper over and repeat on the other side, creating the wings

STEP 9: Lightly grip the plane by the middle of the center crease in your dominant hand. Pull your hand back to your shoulder with the airplane level with or slightly above your head, then shoot your hand forward, aiming slightly upward, while releasing the plane to make it fly.

What Happened:

You folded a classic dart paper airplane. This paper airplane is known for its easy fold and is a good distance flier when thrown. You may have noticed the release technique is especially important in throwing your paper airplane. Release too early and your plane shoots up into the sky, release too late and it nose dives to the ground. If you keep your arm level with the plane’s nose pointed slightly upward during release this plane should glide forward at least 10 feet before nose-diving for landing.


#2: The Chase Paper Airplane

My son made the small modification adding wing tips to the classic dart paper airplane, and it flew even better. With the tips of the wings folded upward this plane soared further, and if you throw it with a tilt it can do rolls while it flies!

Instructions:

STEP 1: Fold STEP 1 through STEP 7 of the paper airplane #1 instructions above

STEP 2: With the paper lying with the crease facing you, fold the top edge down to about 1″ past the middle crease (see image below), flip the paper over and repeat on the other side, creating long the wings

STEP 3: Fold the right wing back towards the center line, repeat on the left side

STEP 4: Lightly grip the plane by the middle of the center crease in your dominant hand. Pull your hand back to your shoulder with the airplane level with or slightly above your head, then shoot your hand forward, aiming slightly upward, while releasing the plane to make it fly.

My son is celebrating after beating all the competition with this plane

What Happened:

The slight change in the wings made a big difference (at least in our test flights at home) in how far the plane flew. The wing shape change gave the plane more lift and reduced the drag, making the plane capable of flying further. If we threw it with a little tilt of our hand, this plane would do rolls while flying!

I’m proud of my son for experimenting with the paper airplane folds and coming up with this improvement to the classic. Encourage your kids to experiment with the paper airplanes and do lots of test flights to see how small changes affect the flight of the paper airplane.


#3: The Bullet Paper Airplane

Once my 5 year old son learned how to fold paper airplanes, this has been his go-to fold. He has attempted many other paper airplanes, but this is his quick and easy fold that I’m pretty sure he can do with his eyes closed. This plane is built for speed. The narrow design makes this aerodynamic plane the one to beat!

Instructions:

STEP 1: Fold STEP 1 through STEP 6 of the Paper Airplane #1 instructions above

STEP 2: Fold the right edge towards the center again, but leave a triangle hanging over the bottom edge (see image below), align the raw edge along the center line. Repeat on the left side.

STEP 6: Refold the plane in half long ways, along the center crease you created in the beginning (your folds should face inward)

STEP 7: With the paper lying with the crease facing you, fold back the top edge down to meet the middle crease, flip the paper over and repeat on the other side, creating the wings

STEP 8: Lightly grip the plane by the middle of the center crease in your dominant hand. Pull your hand back to your shoulder with the airplane level with or slightly above your head, then shoot your hand forward, aiming slightly upward, while releasing the plane to make it fly.

What Happened:

This is a long narrow plane build for speed. The reason it moves fast is the narrow, aerodynamic shape makes it easy to thrust and provides less surface to cause drag resistance. This plane is so fun to throw and you will love being able to fly past all the competition with this speed racer!


#4: The Glider Paper Airplane

This is a fun fold that makes a glider plane with large wings that leave lots of room for decoration or modifications. For my 3-year-old daughter, the most important thing about her paper airplanes is how they look. She likes them decorated with stickers, or her drawings, and better yet, she adds glam with scissors. She cuts out triangles from the wings giving them a cool look, and which also changes the way the plane flies. Grab a pair of kids scissors and try this folding and cutting this simple plane with us.

Safety:

This paper airplane includes instructions to cut the paper wings. If you’re allowing your children to do this step themselves, I highly recommend using children’s scissors. They are much less likely to cut themselves or anything besides paper with these dull kid-friendly scissors. Remember to always supervise your children while they are using scissors. This is in addition to the safety precautions listed at the beginning of this post.

Materials Needed:

In addition to the paper and crayons listed in the beginning for this paper airplane you may also want to use optional kids safety scissors

Instructions:

STEP 1: Fold STEP 1 through STEP 5 of the Paper Airplane #1 instructions above

STEP 2: Fold the top triangle you just created down to the bottom half (the fold is along the bottom straight edge of the triangle)

STEP 6: Fold the upper right corner down at a diagonal to meet the center line (this will be between the top of the paper and the tip of the triangle you folded down in STEP 5), repeat on the left side

STEP 7: You now have a small triangle below the two folds you did in STEP 6; fold this triangle up and crease along the bottom edge of the STEP 6 folds.

STEP 8: Refold the plane in half long ways, along the center crease you created in the beginning (the folds you created in previous steps will be on the outside of this fold)

STEP 8: With the paper lying with the crease facing you, fold back the top edge down to meet the middle crease, flip the paper over and repeat on the other side, creating the wings

STEP 9: This glider plane is fun to throw as-is, but if your child loves scissors as much as my daughter this is a good opportunity to cut the large wings. Cut out triangles, make fringe, or whatever your kid would like.

STEP 10: Lightly grip the plane by the middle of the center crease in your dominant hand. Pull your hand back to your shoulder with the airplane level with or slightly above your head, then shoot your hand forward, aiming slightly upward, while releasing the plane to make it fly.

What Happened:

You created a classic glider paper airplane. You and your child may or may not have taken it up a notch by adding cuts to the wings. How did this affect the flight of the paper airplane? My daughter added stickers to her plane which added more weight and the plane crashed sooner.


We’ve created dozens of paper airplanes in the making of this post alone, and that’s not including the paper airplanes my kids are constantly folding around the house. If you introduce paper airplanes to your kids, be prepared to start buying copy paper in bulk!

We had several competitions where we all lined up with our best or favorite paper airplanes, counted down from 5 to 1 then let them fly. We all had a blast watching our planes fly and discussing which planes flew further or faster and why.

I hope you and your children have as much fun as we did building and flying the paper airplanes in this post. If you make one let me know how it turned out or share a picture with me on Instagram!

Was your favorite paper airplane to fold featured here? Are your kids as into paper airplanes yet as mine are?

Disclosure

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