Engineering is all around us. Engineers are behind everything you use each day, from the scooter your child rides to school or nursery to the kettle you make a beeline for once they're dropped off.
Young children are natural born engineers, constantly investigating to understand how things work. However as they move through school and practical learning makes way for the more theoretical, children start to think less and less like engineers.
Chances are your child's school or nursery isn't doing much engineering. The curriculum is already so jam packed and teachers so busy that there's no time for any extras.
But that doesn't mean you can't get involved in engineering at home while they're still young.
5 Reasons Why Engineering Matters for Under 10's
There aren’t enough engineers: In 2018 a fifth of workers in the UK were in engineering fields, but as these numbers grow, we’re faced with a future with insufficient skilled workers in this sector. Research has shown this is partly because young people simply don’t know enough about engineering. How can we continue to advance and improve as a society if we don’t have people with the skills to help us do so?
Engineering subjects are overlooked: Research shows that most children have a rough idea of their future career path by age 10. However Engineering UK found that less than a quarter of 11-14 year olds knew what engineering even was. Children need positive early experiences of engineering to help them consider studying the subjects. This is especially the case for girls who make up only a very small percentage of GCSE engineering subjects such as Engineering, Computing and Design Technology.
It can turn children on to maths and science: Perhaps even more important at a primary school level is the fact that engineering, by its practical nature, has the capacity to engage children of all abilities with maths and science. As children start to see the purpose of the principles they’re being taught at school, they begin to connect their learning.
It raises achievement in all subjects: A March 2017 report found that hands-on experimentation and learning from failure in schools helped to raise achievement and aspiration across the whole primary curriculum.
It develops other important skills: As children take part in practical engineering activities, they can’t help but practice and develop skills such as problem solving, collaboration, communication and creativity. These skills are widely acknowledged to be some of the most important skills for children to have to thrive in both school and in the world beyond school.
Starting to do some engineering at home with your child doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming though. In fact it can be be really easy to do at home because children investigate and find things out for themselves.
Below I've shared some simple ideas to get you started with your first engineering challenge at home using things you'll probably have around the house.
Make your engineering challenges fun and practical and let them pursue their own ideas and fail where they need to. Especially for younger children, also try to make these challenges things you do together, with them taking the lead.
Bridge Building Challenge For Ages 3-5
What You'll Need: Pile of hard backed books; small characters or animals; 2 chairs.
What to Do:
Place your characters or animals on one chair with around a 15cm gap to a second chair.
Ask what could help the character cross from one chair to the other. You could add a narrative to this with water/trolls below etc. if you wanted.
Once you’ve discussed the idea of a bridge, tell them they have books to use to build a bridge. Ask them to make a bridge with a book. They will likely place one book across the gap and you can show the character successfully crossing.
Next move the chairs further apart and tell them their engineering challenge is to make another bridge using more books. This time they’ll need to overlap the books to create a longer bridge.
Challenge them to make the widest bridge from books and extend by adding a requirement to support a certain weight or number of characters.
Engineering Thinking: Children will be investigating and testing the type of books that work best, how best to balance the books, the need to weigh down the ends of the books, as well as measuring and counting distance and weight.
Bridge Building for Ages 6-8
What You'll Need: Selection of junk modelling materials such as straws, craft sticks, paper cups, cardboard; tearable tape (eg washi tape); scissors.
What to Do:
Start by creating a river that a bridge must cross. You could tie this with Three Billy Goats Gruff if you have it to add some imaginative play. Make your river from a piece of material, sheets of A4 or you could even use water in a tray. Make the width of your river around 20-40cm.
Tell them their engineering challenge is to use the junk modelling resources to build a bridge to cross the river. You might help join the materials with tape, but don’t give any bridge ideas yet.
Give them time to build, commenting on good ideas but not giving direction. This works best when you don’t give any ideas to start with so they have to think creatively of their own bridge design. You’ll be surprised at their creativity!
If they build a bridge successfully, tell them it also needs to support a minimum weight, made up of a number of coins/counters/bricks etc. Give them some more time to improve their bridge to add strength.
When they've finished they could draw their bridge design to remember their engineering work.
Engineering Thinking: Children will be planning, designing, building and testing structures, making constant improvements and iterations to solve problems that arise.
Bridge Building for Ages 9-11
What You'll Need: 2 sheets of A4 paper, pile of chapter books, glue stick, small weights such as coins, counters or blocks.
What to Do:
Create two piles of books of the same height, at least 5cm high. Measure a 15cm gap between the books and explain they need to create a paper bridge to cross the gap.
Place one sheet of A4 paper as a bridge and then add your small weights one by one to the centre of the bridge to see how many it can support before buckling. Don't hold or weigh down the ends of the bridge - it won’t support much this first time.
Tell them their engineering challenge is to make a bridge to support the most weights they can using only two sheets of A4 paper. They can fold and/or glue their paper in any way they like. Give them time to investigate different ways of folding the paper, suggesting ideas where necessary. They could make a table to record the different folding/gluing techniques and number of weights supported.
If necessary, after a few minutes suggest that folding the edges of the bridge up like a handrail on each side will work well and they can investigate different heights for the fold.
Give a set period of time to investigate the strongest bridge design.
Engineering Thinking: Children will be investigating by planning, designing and testing different bridge constructions and thinking about how the same material can be used in different ways to impact its strength.