Ever wondered what’s so intriguing to your child while playing with blocks and seeing them fall over and over again, and yet trying to make the next tallest tower? Or your kid who is forever with play dough, rolling clay into various shapes and moulds. Building objects out of their imagination, they come up to you and exclaim “Mom, look! I made dinosaur!” even though doesn’t look remotely like one to you.
Chances are you have an Engineer kid at home! Most kids start out as naturally curious, trying to unravel the mysteries of the world around them. And as they grow, either this curiosity stands faded or ablaze. With little direction and right approach, parents can very well keep this natural instinctive adventurer alive in their kids.
Jump to the section that interests you most!
- Who is an Engineer?
- What are the different types of engineers?
- Does your child have the inclination or characteristics of an engineer?
- How to develop a love for engineering in your child?
- Fun engineering activities for kids
- Engineering books young kids can read
- Simple engineering projects for kids to build
- Famous child engineers from around the world
Or, if you’re like an engineer, read the whole thing in detail…
Who is an Engineer?
An engineer is a person who uses the knowledge of science and/or math to solve a real world problem. And in doing so, not only he/she helps the society but also brings about innovations that change the way we live.
Engineers use their knowledge to figure out most effective solution to a given problem. The solution may involve invention of a new product/technology or improvements in existing ones.
For example, Thomas Alva Edison used his knowledge of science to invent a light bulb to help us see after sunset. Now imagine how life would have been without this invention! So by inventing light bulb, Edison solved the problem of limited light hours. This life changing invention happened in 1879.
Years later in 2013 when Ann Makosinski, a 15year old Canadian student, realised that even today some students fail their exams because they do not have access to light (because of the lack of electricity), she invented Hollow Flashlight. Hollow flashlight, which is a thermoelectric light, runs on electricity generated by your hand’s heat to power a flashlight. Thus, solving the problem of light and bringing hope to people who still do not have access to power to fuel lighting systems.
That’s what real engineers do. They solve real world problems!
Different Types of Engineers
Many kinds of engineers! Just like there are many different problems, there are different engineers who fix them. An engineer who sends a Rocket to space perhaps cannot help you find the best way to get rid of your trash. So depending on the problem and area of interest, we have different categories of engineers.
- Aerospace Engineer: Engineers who help in design, develop and manufacture airplanes and spacecraft are called Aerospace Engineers. So if your little one dreams of landing on moon one day, she could be an aerospace engineer.
- Biomedical Engineer: These engineers try to find solution to medical problems using technology. Their aim is to improve human longevity and combat diseases.
- Chemical Engineer: Engineers who use their knowledge of science and math to overcome obstacles in production and use of chemicals fall in this category. Like how to extract minerals and oil, clean contaminated water, treat sewage wastes etc. comes under the tasks these engineers.
- Civil Engineer: You and I have a lot to thank civil engineers for they are the ones responsible for building highways, treatment plants, airports, railway stations, dams etc. Without these modern structures, our lives would have been much difficult.
- Computer Engineer: These engineers develop software and hardware related to computers. They are the ones responsible for shrinking the size of desktop to fit into laptops and now even phones.
- Electrical & Electronics Engineer: Electrical engineers work around solving problems related to electricity and electronic equipment. Imagine your life without electricity and gadgets for a day to get a taste of how important their job is.
- Environmental Engineer: Like the name suggests, these engineers try to strike a harmony between man’s activities and the environment. They work to solve harmful waste disposal and emission problems to safeguard our environment.
- Industrial Engineer: Industrial engineers work to maximize productivity of an organization. They take a broader picture and connect the dots to make everything work better.
- Material Engineer: These engineers work around various materials to find the most efficient ones that could advance the technology and science further. Desktops turning into laptops that have eventually turned into hand-held devices, have a lot to do with material engineers.
- Mechanical Engineer: They are like the backbone of every industry. They are onto the tasks of developing and augmenting the efficiency of your tools, cars, machines and even your child’s toys.
- Nuclear Engineer: These engineers work with nuclear fuels and try to find ways to harness nuclear energy. They also work to safeguard people from nuclei hazards.
Who Can Become an Engineer? Tell-tale Characteristics in Kids
A child who spends hours creating things out of clay, assembling and un-assembling blocks, setting things apart to see how they fix are natural engineers. It is inherent in their curious nature. As they grow, almost instinctively they show great interest in shapes and numbers. While you might believe they are gifted, what they are really showing off are their engineering skills.
Such children will often count the block as they build, use various shapes, try balancing figurines over each other, take things apart to build them again and show a great, almost natural, interest in numbers. Engaging such children in Engineering for kids should be an obvious choice for parents.
These little engineers are going to be amazing at logical and critical thinking. With mindful guidance, can certainly become masters of STEM fields they choose, be in engineering or architecture or even painting.
Yes, painting! Might we remind you of Leonardo Da Vinci! He was not just a great painter but an exceptional engineer too. He studied human anatomy in detail, made models of flying machines and created art marvels like Mona Lisa and the Last Supper. Samuel Morse, the great artist and the founder of National Academy of Design in Manhattan is better known for Morse code and Telegraph.
Nobel laureate Santiago Ramón y Cajal, better known as father of modern Neuroscience, created mesmerizing ink on paper artworks that depicted his findings on human brain. Dr. Alfred L. Copley researched on properties of blood and was also an abstract painter. Maria Merian contributed to ecology while painted stunning floral works.
History is full of such marvelous, exceptional beings. More than often these talents cross each other and intermingle to create works of arts and science. Take a bridge for example. It is not just an engineering marvel but also work of art. Engineering drawing is a major subject in architecture and engineering is again a scientific take on art.
It was only later that these disciplines were thought independent of each other. Intelligence is not scalar as it manifests itself across varied disciplines. While the mistake of treating them incoherently was made during Industrial revolution, recent attempts and increased emphasis on STEM/ STEAM aims to develop a more united and inter-disciplinary approach to enhance learning.
Our future generation is more likely to follow this cohesive approach to learning and this needs change in our parenting view too. Rather than thinking that kids are too young to understand the meaning of engineering, we need to invest heavily in engineering for kids. At least for those young tinkering hands, which display an early acumen for engineering.
How to Encourage Kids towards Engineering
The foremost step is to talk and use the language of engineering. Talk to your kids about what is engineering in really simple terms. Your aim is to guide them and not confuse them with heavy, scientific jargons. Making a block tower is engineering, moulding clay to mimic an animal or a structure is engineering, balancing coins or cards on top of each other is engineering.
In fact, if you take a closer look within your house, there are so many examples of wondrous engineering. When you push the door open, hinges help it move – that is engineering. When you push a heavy table rather than lifting, it is another example of simple engineering. Your travel suitcase with wheels is an example of engineering. Your shirt button is yet another example of simple engineering at work.
Pointing out how these things work help kids understand the world around them wherever they go.
Simple Engineering Activities for Kids
So what you really need is to open your child’s eyes to the world around them. Here are a few simple and effective ideas to explore engineering for kids while taking their Spatial skills to the next level:
- Look around your house and talk how simple objects have hidden engineering in them, like your shirt button, a pen, plan of your house, switchboard etc. Open their eyes to the world of engineering.
- Engage in simple engineering activities for kids like balancing coins to make structures. Make a house of cards, stack books to see how tall a tower you and your child can make.
- Play around your child’s toys to reveal the hidden engineering. A simple pull and release toy car is an excellent example of engineering.
- Build with legos and blocks. This is one of engineering activity for kids that is equally enjoyed by adults. Let your child’s imagination run free as they build structures and learn some basic engineering lessons on balancing and weight.
- Jenga tiles are another great way to explore engineering for kids. Play a game of Jenga to learn the science of balancing and center of mass.
- Transform Jenga tiles into loose parts to emulate famous structures. India gate, Jantar Mantar, Roman Colosseum are just a few examples.
- Another engineering project for kids is to draw the plan of their house. All you need is a sheet of paper and a pencil. This is a great example of translating 3D structures into 2D structures.
- Make paper boats, airplanes, animals! The simple play of Origami has deep hidden engineering principles for your child to explore and learn.
- Reading maps is also an awesome way to approach engineering for kids. Read simple maps with them of well-traveled routes like from your home to school or a nearby park. Now, ask them if they can draw their version of the map. The idea is to spark imagination and ignite ability to visualise and draw.
- Observe the furniture in your home for some cool DIY engineering projects. Ask your children if they can make the dinning table or the chair using the material of their choice.
- Build 3D equivalents of 2D shapes using marshmallows and toothpicks.
- Explore domino effect with your normal Jenga tiles/ planks to ignite the mind of your little engineer. The permutations and combinations are literally endless.
- Integrate math into engineering by exploring tessellation, patterns in famous architectural marvels. Be it Taj Mahal or modern marvel like Lotus temple, all of these are abundant with math, art and engineering.
- Yet another fun Engineering activity for kids is plastic/disposable cup tower. Invite your child to make a tower using only cups and come up with different models of the tower. Certain to spark curiosity, this engineering activity for kids is a must try.
- Explore and experiment with chunky nuts and bolts. Mix a few of them up and let your children find the right matches. You don’t necessarily need the plastic ones, though they do minimise adult supervision.
- Explore your toolbox with your kids for this simple engineering for kids activity. Show them how real tools look like, tell them their names and uses. This is great at building knowledge for equipment and igniting curiosity around engineering.
Engineering Books for Kids
Yet another and very effective way to nurture your little engineer is to read books. Reading engineering books for kids can be instrumental in building STEM and Engineering acumen in children. Stories have the ability to inspire like none other. And they are not only tools of honing engineering skills in children but also deliver strong message about soft skills like resilience, persistence, growth mindset, hard work and honesty.
Invest in a few titles form the below list and add them to your reading reparatory. Even if your child is not really into engineering, these inspirational titles have great value and life lessons to learn from.
1. Magnolia Mudd and the Super Jumptastic Launcher Deluxe – A fantastic engineering book for kids with colourful bright illustrations to spark your child’s mind. It is story about Magnolia and her super invention – a Flower Bouquet Launcher. Sure to delight your kids.
2. Have Fun, Molly Lou Melon – Spark imagination and creativity in your child with this book. Short of toys, the protagonist of the story makes her own playthings only to realise that imagination is all you need to have fun. That’s the stuff engineers and inventors are really made of.
3. So You Want To be an Inventor? – This title is sure to awaken the inventor inside your child. It will inspire your child to follow the footsteps of some of the great inventors in the history and discover her strengths.
4. Papa’s Mechanical Fish – A wonderful engineering book for kids, Papa’s mechanical fish is based on the real-life inventor Lodner Phillips. This book teaches how things don’t always click and what an engineer must possess, beyond knowledge, to make his inventions work.
5. If I built a Car – This is a fantastic tale equipped with wacky illustrations that will hold your and your child’s heart forever. Jack, the protagonist, has some real crazy, wonderful ideas to build his dream car – the car of future you might wish to have.
6. Ada Twist, Scientist – This is a lovely tale about a girl, Ada Twist, and her experiments with science. Ada is curious, wants to know a million things and is not afraid of failure. Just what real engineers are like! It is a must to spark curiosity and build a great mindset.
7. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind – This is an awe-inspiring book, which now also is a Netflix Original film. The story reaffirms that necessity is the mother of invention. It revolves around the grit of a boy who is determined to save his village from drought. A must read title in Engineering books for kids!
8. Marvelous Mattie – How Margaret E. Knight became an inventor: This is an inspiring story of Margaret E. Knight, also known as Lady Edison, and how a sketchbook and a handful of tools can join in to create great inventions. This title is sure to inspire your kids to turn their drawings into engineering works. Holder of 2007 Bank Street – Best Children’s Book of the Year. This is highly recommended!
9. Coppernickel – The Invention: One of the best titles among Engineering books for kids, this one is a tale of friendship and inventions. Packed with wit, thrill and imagination, must certainly be on your child’s reading list.
10. The Girl Who Thought in Pictures – The Story of Dr. Temple Grandin: A heart warming and inspiring story of Dr. Temple Grandin and her exceptional work. This book will teach your kids to respect differently-abled children and not to think any less of them. After all, imagination and grit is what engineers need.
11. Whoosh! – Whoosh is a story about problem solving, dedication and invention – so basically everything engineering. The world we live in is a better place because of the countless inventions and engineering brains behind them.
12. Ada Byron Lovelace & the Thinking Machine – This is a wonderful story of Ada Lovelace – the woman who imagined the first computer. It is a perfect read to show the power of imagination and creativity to your kids.
13. Engineering Elephants: Especially authored for young kids between 4-8years, this books combines humour, creativity and everything engineers do. A great start to get your children understand what is engineering.
14. How do you lift a Lion : As the title suggests, this book introduces kids how engineering can help do a tough task. With little creativity and simple machines you can lift almost anything, certainly a Lion!
15. The Dumpster Diver: This is a great Engineering book for kids to teach how to solve real world problems and conserve their environment. Engineering is after all solving real world problems. It is a story of a boy who dives to collect the ocean dump and not the treasures. But what can he do with dump? Read it to find out!
Another way to inspire your little engineers in a more fun and hands-on way is to take up Engineering challenges from Classic tales like Three Little Pigs, Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel.
Transform these timeless fairy tales into engineering book for kids with little creativity. Ask your children to make houses for the Three Little Pigs, a perfect forest maze for Red Riding hood and a slide or a bride for Rapunzel. With little thinking, you can easily design engineering projects for kids based on these stories.
Once your kids are hands-on and all charged up, you could engage in simple engineering projects for kids. Look around the house for material like empty plastic bottles, craft sticks and paper to put your imagination and engineering skills to test.
Engineering Projects for Kids
Engineers learn by doing. Kids are no different. There are a lot of fun activities and Games that develop your child’s critical thinking skills and set them on the path of science and engineering, without actually feeling that they’re “studies.”
1. Paper Pinwheel: A simple paper pinwheel offers a tremendous opportunity to put engineering skills to use.
Step 1: Take a craft paper or newspaper to make a perfect square. Let your child use a scale to draw one herself/ himself.
Step 2: Draw diagonals, joining the opposite corners of the square.
Step 3: Cut out the square.
Step 4: Cut along the diagonals going up halfway to the center of the square. Center is where the diagonal lines intersect.
Step 5: Take alternate corners and glue them to the center of the square.
Step 6: Take a push pin and insert it at the center of the pinwheel. Make sure it holds all four folds together.
Step 7: Attach the pinwheel to a straw. Your pinwheel is ready.
Check it out by placing it outdoors to see the power of wind.
2. Coin Structures: This is really cool engineering project for kids and much loved by children across ages. All you need is a bowl full of coins and a flat surface to start the building fun.
3. Pom-Pom Shooter: This fun engineering project for kids is for 6+yrs old. But, if you are willing to help, even your younger children can participate. This project is sure to expose your kids to various scientific concepts and promises hours of fun.
4. Paper Bridges: Build paper bridge by stacking books at either end and using paper as the bridge. Now line up coins to see if your paper bridge is strong enough. Can you tinker with your design to make the bridge stronger? A great hands-on challenge, this is sure to get little engineers hooked.
5. Marble Run: Revamp your old shoe box into a Marble maze with this simple engineering project for kids. You can use rolled paper instead of straws to make it more eco-friendly. Such a simple DIY engineering project, this will inspire your children to make their own toys from trash.
6. Country Flags: An awesome hands-on Engineering project for kids, this one will help your child in learning country flags as well. All you need is blocks and imagination. Show a country flag and ask our child to recreate it using only blocks. Great for observation and resourcefulness.
7. Plastic Bottle Recycling: Ask your children what can they do with old plastic bottles and if they can solve the problem of plastic pollution by reusing them in any way. This will help build logical reasoning and critical thinking skills. It will also give them a sense of responsibility and boost their confidence when they come up with ideas that can positively change the world. You can also use it for school science fair project to show how many ways a plastic bottle can be recycled at home. Sure to win applause and catch attention.
8. Paper Bag Challenge: Another thought provoking and real world challenge – ask your child to think of reuses for old newspaper and magazines. Encourage them to make something they can probably sell. This could easily transform into a school science fair project if they can come up with a simple tool to make paper bags easily or make a newspaper basket. Imagination is the key.
9. Blocks Builder Challenge: This is really great engineering project for kids across all age groups. Open ended and inspired by loose parts, ask your child to build something they see around them like a car, a house or a boat. Help them sketch their idea and then take on the challenge to build it up using blocks and other loose parts.
10. DIY Braille: One of the most important tasks of an engineer is to solve real world problems. That is what engineers are for! Challenge your child to device a system to help visually impaired. Use a blindfold to cover their eyes to help them empathise with visual impairment. Once they can relate to the challenges, ask them if they can come up with some possible solutions. We designed our very own Braille using Lego blocks.
Child Engineers Who Are Changing the World
“You’re just a child” doesn’t cut it anymore. We know there is a limit to what children can do, but there is no limit to what they can do either, given the right encouragement. There are hundreds of child innovators around the world and some of them are building things that would leave even governments stunned!
Learning about young children who are self-taught engineers is another way to inspire your children. Anything can be achieved with the power of right mindset and hard work. Knowing about children who are just ordinary kids but have taken the difficult path of experimenting and learning will surely aspire your kids and make them believe in themselves.
1. Kelvin Doe – Born in Sierra Leone, Kevin Doe is famed as the world’s youngest self-taught engineer. By the time he was 13, he invented a battery capable of powering homes in power deficit city of Freetown. He also built a microphone, radio amplifier, sound amplifier and a three-channel mixer. Quite a lot when you are self-taught and building everything from discarded items and scrap.
2. Ann Makosinski – The Canadian Inventor designed a flashlight called Hollow FlashLight, which uses body heat as power. No need for batteries! The flashlight was inspired by an urge to help a friend who did not have power at night and struggled to study.
3. Cassandra Lin – This teenager is doing a great job at helping her community and saving the environment. She founded a solution to turn used and discarded kitchen oil into biofuel to heat homes of the needy. Her work has earned her numerous applauds and awards.
4. Gitanjali Rao – This 12year old holds the title of America’s Top Young Scientist for inventing a life saving device, which can detect lead in water. She was inspired for her affordable solution after witnessing the Michigan Water crisis.
5. Gursimran Singh – This teenager has developed a device to help visually impaired read with ease. His device, EyeScribe, translates text to speech thus helping visually impaired enjoy reading as much as others.
6. Elif Bilgin – Recipient of both Scientific American’s “Science in Action Award” and the Google’s “Inspired Idea Award”, Elif Bilgin invented a method to turn banana peel into bio-plastic. This persistent girl succeeded only after 10 failed attempts with her last two being a success.
7. Kavya Vignesh: This 13year old invented a robot to save bees. Off late, bees have become endangered. When Kayya realised how bees are killed when an unwanted beehive is smoked or destroyed, she came up with a cool idea to save the bees while relocating the beehive.
8. Ryan Hickman: Appalled by garbage and how it lands in landfills and oceans, this little boy started his very own recycling business. You don’t always have to innovate a product to be an innovator. Finding innovating ways to a real world problem serves just as well.
9. Easton LaChappelle: This young innovator is on a mission to make prosthetics affordable. The turning point came when he met a 7year old with a prosthetic arm costing $80,000. Hit by the gravity of situation, he decided to make prosthetics more accessible by making them pocket friendly. His 3D printed prosthetics cost $350, which is less than even 5% of the earlier price.
These children are not extra-ordinary by the virtue of birth. But, extra-ordinary because of their inclination to uplift others and provide solutions to problems they encountered. That’s what engineers do!