Pathfinders Design and Technology

Canadian company, Pathfinders Design and Technology is all about learning through hands-on building. Derek started his business out on Vancouver Island, teaching homeschoolers about medieval siege engines like trebuchets and catapults. Over the years, it’s expanded to creating kits of all kinds of designs, from the original medieval warfare machines to hydraulics, and animals to bridges.

hydraulic robotic armThe boys and I got to work on building the hydraulic robotic arm. My oldest, who is 10½ was the most excited to work on this. It was easy to start – just dump out the supplies, find the instructions and go!

Marked as intended for kids ages 8+, this project is pretty advanced. Thankfully the instructions are carefully laid out with both text and images to help make it easier. It took us 2 sessions to finish.

In the instructions, I particularly enjoyed a reminder to have a snack break. The other really neat thing was the addendum that was included in the box – with 2 suggestions that customers had made to make this project even more stable and productive. I love that he’s taken the ideas of someone else and used them to better his model.

After it was all built, my boys spent a solid hour putting it through a series of tests to see what it could pick up. Thanks to the hydraulics, the robotic arm is able to move up and down, side to side almost 90°, and with a pincer grasp. They tested its ability to move smoothly, what size and weight they could grasp, and if they could practically do anything for their everyday life. They were most successful moving around a light cork.

The really neat thing about this project was the visual understanding it presented to be able to explain how hydraulics work. It’s actually quite amazing to see how fluid can affect motion.

I think my 10 year old expressed how much he loves the results of this building project. He’s already trying to think about how he could expand on it and figure out how to make it move forwards and backwards as well. My 7 year old was trying to figure out how he could use this information to modify it to be an electrical robot arm. There are a lot of potential extensions to the learning here.

We sent another project home with a friend – the Leonardo da Vinci Catapult. This model is of a medieval siege weapon that uses tension to hurl objects. In this case, the tension is created through the use of rope. The box promises that you can launch a projectile a good 4+ meters! The Leonardo da Vinci projects are geared more for the 12+ age range, as they are a bit more elaborate. We asked our friends to send us their reaction to the project.

“This toy was very hard to put together.  I found it very complicated, but even though it was hard, I still had fun working on it.”


We also were given a trebuchet to build, but we’ve decided to save that for now. It’s going to be a great outdoor project so we can fling projectiles. (Wondering the difference between a trebuchet and a catapult? Trebuchets use the power of counterweight to throw their ammunition whereas a catapult uses tension.).

There are so many different and varying projects available from this company, you are sure to find something amazing for everyone in your family. I was really excited to hear of some of the future projects they have in the works – and hopefully when they are ready, I’ll be able to share some of them with you!

I have been really impressed when chatting with Derek about his business and how much he values the opinions and ideas of homeschoolers. Since the original purpose of these models has been for education, he’s listened to the feedback of the community to put together learning resources that are related. Some you can find right on the Pathfinders Design and Technology website under the resources tab: things like graphic charts, free and links to other great sites. But you can also visit his additional education site which is all about expanding the models into a greater learning experience.

24 thoughts on “Pathfinders Design and Technology”

  1. Ahhh!!! My kids are not in school and my son LOVES engineering projects. This would be an amazing addition to our teachings! A few weeks ago, we were at ScienceFest (in Ottawa) and my son made a catapult (which he is still playing with) so that would be great, or the arm on the Leonardo da Vinci Helicopter. I hope to win this for his birthday. It will be the highlight of his five years.

    Besos, Sarah
    Blogger at Journeys of The Zoo

  2. Launa Bustamante

    I think the lift bridge or the robotic arm def look like they’d be a lot of fun. But then so are the other kits as well. Thanks for the robotic arm materials and directions even if we don’t have the kit! We are user’s (homeschoolers) and this is going to fit nicely into science (and math)!

  3. The Da Vinci helicopter and catapult look amazing! They are all super-fun looking products, though, and I love how they are Canadian! Thanks for running this contest 🙂

  4. Assembly/Instruction sheet has been separated from our grandson’s da Vinci Catapult kit.
    Would greatly appreciate adding a button directing to instructions–or by snail mail.

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