Wednesday, 3 December 2014

10 Ways to Support an Interest in Engineering

When our son was just sixteen months old, we brought him a little train set. With some help, our son would design and build the train route as he showed a natural curiosity in all things engineering. From the early days of playing with trains and blocks, to now building bridges (from paddle pop sticks) and wiring electrical circuits, our son's love of engineering science is evident.

Now that our daughters are starting to show an interest in engineering too, I have been reflecting on how my husband and I have supported our son's learning and how we can do the same for daughters. Here are some of the ways we have supported and encouraged an interest in engineering.

A Designated Work Area
Every learner needs to have a work space where they can make their ideas come alive. A work area needs a table or a bench that has good lighting and enough space to spread out work and tools. It also needs to be a place where tools and equipment can be kept making them easily accessible. Ideally, it would be great to have a space where projects can be left out so that the little engineer can return to his or her project when they are inspired and ready to continue. This area also needs to support mess. Creativity is always going to be messy!

Quality Equipment
When our son was four years old, we got him a tool kit with real tools. We wanted to show him that we respected him as a learner and that we believe in his abilities and skills to use the equipment properly. As his skills and maturity have progressed, we have given our son more complex tools to use such as a small hand drill and a chisel to use with wood work.

Other equipment that could be kept in the designated work area might include some of the following; a range of different types of stick tape and glues, screw drivers, hammers, drills, nails, bolts, wood, paper, scissors, staplers and paints....just to name a few.

A Journal
One of the best ways to encourage engineering is to have loads of paper available to draw on. Notebooks of different sizes or just plain paper on a clipboard gives the learner a place to draw and record their ideas onto. Even if construction has already taken place, it can be a way for them to record their own progress.

A Range of Resources
There are plenty of manufactured resources that can support the budding engineer. Modern Parents Messy Kids have put together a guide of Toys for Fostering S.T.E.M Skills for kids of all ages. When gathering resources, keep in mind the already developed skills of your little engineer as well as their development and ability level.

Some of the best resources for supporting engineering are right in your home. Resources such as cardboard boxes and tubes, rubber bands and pom poms, paper plates, plastic cups and spoons, bottle tops, plastic containers, tin cans, cereal boxes, string of different kinds and other recycled items can make for the most fantastic resources.

Setting an Example
Learning opportunities are everywhere in our daily life so as parents and home educators, we are able to demonstrate to our children how important engineering really is. For example, when our lawn mover broke, my husband (and I) wanted to find out why it wasn't working. Once finding the answer to why it wasn't working, we made a plan on  how to fix it. The engineering process of ask, imagine, plan, create and improve can be easily demonstrated through our daily lives. Involving our children in this process shows them how importance science (S.T.E.M) is and its valuable.

Follow the Child
Listen to your child. Listen to their questions and their ideas, encourage them to think deeper, ask more questions and to seek the answers. By doing this, you will be able to see where engineering can be involved in their learning. For example, our son asked about where we get our electricity from and how does the the light switch work. After reading books and visiting the electricity station, my husband purchased a short circuit kit and together they found the answers to the questions and learnt a whole lot more about designing and creating different electrical circuits.

Encouraging and Supporting
There will be moments of disappointment when the little engineer's invention might not work, when frustrations are high if something breaks. This is all apart of learning but it also can be a difficult part for some learners. I have found that stepping in and "helping" was not helpful at all. Setbacks and disappointments is something we all have to work through but it can be made easier when you know that you have someone supporting you and encouraging you to try again. Knowing that someone believes in you can make all the difference.

"You never fail until you stop trying" - Albert Einstein

Books are such a great way to support an area of interest and encourage a deeper understanding on that topic. The Educators Spin on it have put together The Ultimate Guide to STEM books for kids which is absolutely fabulous. We also enjoy reading books about inventors and eningeers. What we do all day? have put together a list of 11 books to Inspire Inventors and Engineers which is a great place to start. 

A Positive Attitude
Even if engineering science is not something that you are good as a student, I believe that maintaining a positive attitude (no negative comments) towards your child's interest is both encouraging and supportive to them. Science was never my strongest subject but I can see how brilliant my children are with science that I would be crazy to crush their interest because of my own misunderstanding. I am determined to learn about science along side of them and the more I do this, the more I can see how fun science really is.

Time...lots of time
Time is such a gift and as homeschoolers, we have that luxury of time. Whatever engineering project my children are creating, time is something that we have. Time to question and find answers, time to experiment and explore, time to create and accomplish. Time is the biggest gift I can give my children.

"Scientists investigate that which already is; Engineers create that which has never been." - Albert Einstein

More Engineering ideas and resources can be found on my Engineering Science pintesest board.


  1. Love this! A really great and important list for growing young engineers.

    1. Thank you! It's also a good reminder to us parents how we can support our young engineers.

  2. Really a great post. Hope I can do some of this topics with my daughter.

  3. This is one of my goals to spend more time on with my daughters this year, especially since their Grandfather is an engineer. So many great points here. Thanks for including Amanda's Stem Book List. Have you seen the two STEAM ebooks she has written too, so great for young children.

    1. I haven't seen Amanda's STEM ebooks but I will definitely go and check them out. What a wonderful resource your daughter's grandfather would be to their STEM learning! I hope your daughters do get to spend lots of time engineering this year.

  4. This is a fantastic list of STEM ideas! Sharing with my readers!