Engineering Projects for Children at Home
I continue to be amazed at the natural engineering instincts of young children. Ironically, with all the technology available to kids today (television, computers, tablets, video games), overuse takes time away from building and creating, both of which can lead our next generation of ethical scientists and engineers to solving some of the problems overuse of technology causes.
Giving kids a hands-on opportunity to explore the engineering aspects of technology has many benefits that can lead to this development of problem solving. When I taught third grade, I always had a take-apart learning center in my classroom, drawing in many young students. Frequently, I would see kids with great mechanical and engineering skills participating who otherwise might have trouble with more traditional schoolwork. It was a place they could excel using their natural talents.
Check out the energy and excitement of these kids taking apart old computers at a recent Williamsburg Schools science fair:
How can you create engaging engineering activities at home? Here are eight recommendations:
- Get old computers, printers, radios, toasters, typewriters, etc. at your local transfer station. Cut the cord off, give your kids some old tools and let them have at it. (I don’t let kids take apart anything with glass, such as monitors, or open up the barrel shaped capacitors found in electronics.)
- Give kids paper, cardboard, cardboard tubes, scissors, tapes, and makers and see what happens.
- With similar materials as above, have your kids construct marble runs, courses that go from a table to the floor made out of found materials.
- Traditional activities such as LEGO blocks, Trios, and Lincoln Logs are still great engineering activities. While it’s fine to build by the book, kids should also have a chance to build whatever they want.
- Appliance boxes are great for building larger structures.
- Outside, help kids get materials to build forts and fairy houses.
- Paper airplane are a time honored engineering activity for kids. Make up your own or try some of these designs to start. Add some math by measuring which design flies the farthest.
- Consider purchasing WeDo (grades 1 to 4) or NXT (grades 5 and up) LEGO robotics kits for home.
Share your own engineering activities in the comments section below.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
John Heffernan ♦ Tech Talk: Supporting Creative Play with Technology
John is currently the technology teacher the Williamsburg Schools. He has also worked as an educational technology consultant, a third grade teacher, and as a software engineer. He has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering from Tufts and a Masters of Education from Lesley University. John lives in Conway with his wife, 5 year old son, and 2 whippets. In additional to his interest in technology, John is a juggler, musician, and animal tracker. Read more about his engineering adventures at kidsengineer.com.