Make a Jacob’s ladder toy

Playing with a completed Jacob's ladder toy

What makes this toy so special is that it’s a visual illusion - when the ladder is held at one end, blocks appear to fall down to the bottom (but they aren’t really!)


You will need:

  • Sturdy cardboard
  • Scissors
  • Two colours of paper
  • Sticky tape


Preparing the pieces:

1. Cut a small rectangle of cardboard (roughly 10 cm x 5cm).

6 cardboard rectangles

2. Use the rectangle as a template to cut another 5 pieces of cardboard to match.

3. Cut 9 long, thin strips of one colour of paper.

Coloured paper strips

4. Cut 6 long, thin strips of the second colour of paper.

Two examples of completed blocks

5. Use sticky tape to attach 3 strips (all one colour) to one of the cardboard pieces. You must have one strip in the centre of one short edge and the other two strips towards the sides of the opposite short edge.

6. Repeat step 5 for a further 3 cardboard rectangles using all the coloured strips. You will be left with one cardboard rectangle that has nothing stuck to it.


Assembling the Jacob's ladder:

This can seem complicated but just go slowly and methodically and you will be fine! Try to keep the paper strips parallel to each other and the long edges of the rectangles.

First step of assembling the Jacob's ladder 

1. Lay a piece that has strips of the first colour face down on the table.

Preparing the block for the next to be placed on top

2. Fold the coloured strips up and over the cardboard rectangle.

Laying down the second block

3. Take another of your rectangles, this time with coloured strips of the second colour. Lay it face down on top of the first. Orient it so that one strip is on the side where there are two strips of the first colour and vice versa.

Attaching the paper strips to the second block

4. Use sticky tape to attach the strips of the first colour to the cardboard rectangle you just put down.

Preparing the second block for the placement of the third

5. Fold the coloured strips from the second rectangle up and over ready to receive the next piece (just like in step 2).

6. Lay another rectangle (with strips of the first colour) face down on top (just like in step 3).

7. Stick down the coloured strips from the second rectangle onto the back of the third (just like in step 4).

8. Fold the coloured strips from the third rectangle up and over (just like in steps 2 and 5).

9. Continue repeating these steps using alternating colours until you are left with the final rectangle (without any paper strips)

Placing and securing the final block

10. Place the rectangle down on top and use sticky tape to attach the coloured strips from the rectangle underneath (which should have been folded up and over in preparation!)


Making the pieces fall:

Hold the ladder by the long sides of one of the end pieces. Slowly tip the piece forward and watch what happens below. Keep holding that same piece and then tip it backwards – what do you see now?