Signs of Spring - Build a Working Windmill

Hi, I’m Liz, I am Preservation Utah’s Interim Assistant Director. I am today's guest blogger for PBS KIDS Utah. Preservation Utah is a state-wide nonprofit that works to preserve, promote and protect Utah's historic built environment (AKA old buildings) through public awareness, advocacy, and active preservation. Learn more about us here. 

Today, we are going to build our very own windmill out of items we already have at home. Windmills have been used since medieval times (around 1000-1300) to convert wind power into rotational energy as the blades spin. This is a fun activity that will help kids understand aerodynamics and friction when they take the windmill outside to blow in the breeze. 

Preservation Utah also offers a free self-guided walking tour app called "Utah Heritage Walks." Using this app would be a great way to get some fresh air while also practicing social distancing. Learn more here.

Build a Working Windmill


  • Small paper cups (2)
  • rubber band
  • plastic bendy straw
  • scissors
  • toothpick


Goal: Build a windmill that will spin well when you blow on it or take it outside in the breeze.


  1. Using a toothpick (or a pencil or pen), poke a small hole in the bottom of both cups. Try to get the hole as close to the center of each cup as possible (by eye, no need to measure).
  2. Place a rubber band around one of the paper cups, about ¾ of an inch from the bottom of the cup. The rubber band will act as a cutting guide, so make sure it is nice and straight (parallel with the bottom of the cup). Make 7-8 cuts in the cup up to the rubber band.
  3. Fold the cut lines toward the bottom of the cup to make the blades of the windmill top. Then, gently twist each cut in the same direction. The twist gives the cup a more aero-dynamic body. It will spin much better.
  4. Place the other cup upside-down on the table and place the long end of the straw in the bottom of the cup. You will have to make the hole for the straw a bit bigger.
  5. Place the toothpick in the hole in the bottom of the cut cup. Place the other end of the toothpick inside the short end of the bent straw. The toothpick inside the straw provides minimal friction allowing the top of the windmill to spin easily.
  6. Hold the bottom cup (uncut cup) on a solid surface and blow hard enough to make the windmill spin. The hole in the top cup for the toothpick can’t be too big or the windmill top will fall off.

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