Guest post by Mark Coster from STEM Toy Expert
With engineering jobs consistently ranking in the highest paying jobs internationally, it’s no wonder that many folks are interested in strategies to get their children interested in engineering. We all want our children primed for success!
In an ideal world, we want to foster success skills in them without having to do endless workbook pages or hire expensive tutors. Check out these engineering activities to engage your children’s passion for engineering while ensuring maximum engagement.
Do you remember playing Mouse Trap as a kid? We know we sure did! It felt great to build something that, with one gentle push, would create a series of reactions beyond our control. Games like this allow children to engage in engineering strategies as they test and rebuild the machine until it is exactly up to their standards.
Rube Goldberg machines work just like that game of MouseTrap did. A Rube Goldberg machine is a device that performs a simple task using chain reactions. For example, the final goal might be to catapult a marble in a cup. However, the process to get there might mean the marble travels over a ramp or through tunnels before it makes it to its final destination.
What makes a Rube Goldberg machine special is that the builder has to create a multitude of simple machines to make it work--if it doesn’t qualify as a simple machine, it doesn’t qualify as a step in Rube Goldberg land.
Keep your kids’ brains busy by asking them to design such a machine. It can be difficult to find mechanical parts suitable for kids, which is why the Mini STEAM Center is great for open-ended play, such as Rube Goldberg machines!
This one is an oldie, but certainly still a goodie. In this challenge, children will be given a variety of materials to design a container that will allow an egg to be dropped from some height without breaking. We definitely recommend you test this one outside--if you live in close quarters, be sure to warn your neighbors before your test run!
The best way to truly extend an activity like this into an opportunity to learn about engineering is to implement the engineering design process. Usually, there are seven steps in this process.
First, your child will need to ask questions to identify the intended outcome for the project and the constraints placed on them. In this case, they’ll want to know how to keep the egg-free of damage, and what materials exist with which to create the egg’s enclosure.
Next, your child will research the problem and imagine solutions. They’ll develop a plan and draw a draft of that plan prior to building. It will be important for them to clearly state which supplies they need and adapt their plans as they realize supplies may have been left off of the original list.
Your child will then test and evaluate their prototype and take stock of what worked and what did not. Foster their sense of perseverance by encouraging them to try again until the egg makes it down unscathed!
For more information on how to implement the engineering design process in the home, check outthis post.
It’s completely possible that you are reading this article and realizing that the activities are a little older than your children. Your three-year-old isn’t ready to use scissors, yet, let alone build a simple machine. On the flip side, you could be looking for more self-directed activities, so that you can still provide enrichment to your future engineer while getting some work done at home. If either of those things is the case, check outthis list of STEM toys that are organized by age.
Ranging from a simple building block set to water pipes that you can use in the bathtub, STEM toys provide your child with tons of educational fun. Best of all, your child will be so busy playing with their new toy, they won’t even realize that they’re learning!
Engineering is meant to teach children that learning never ends. Any challenges you give within an engineering context will be sure to have your child generating new responses, testing their ideas, and persevering in the name of science. Empower them to be all that they can be through engineering!
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