How to Engage Little Kids in Engineering Activities

This week is Engineers Week! It is a time to connect kids to real-world engineering problems and expose them to what engineers really do. It is a time to talk about the ever growing need for engineers and the variety of skills they possess. It is a time to celebrate how engineering has contributed to improving our quality of life!

But where do you start? Read on to learn more about the engineering design process and how to use it in education, as well as how to make an engineering kit for your budding engineers. Oh, and there is a freebie too!

Engineering is about the design process and having the right tools!

Engineering is about the design process and having the right tools!

The Engineering Design Process

The engineering design process (EDP) is the fundamental method that engineers use to find a solution to a problem.  The key word here is “problem”. If there isn’t a problem or improvement needed, it likely isn’t engineering. To solve a problem, the EDP has steps that may be labeled differently according to various sources, but the process is the same. Here we outline the primary focus of each step in the process.

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Identify the Problem: This step requires careful consideration of what is needed and of equal importance, consideration of any constraints or rules that must be followed.

Brainstorming: Kids really get to be creative here, which may be overwhelming to some. Encourage them to make a table, listing each available material and how each may be used to solve the problem.

Design: This step pulls the brainstorming phase together. A drawing should be made and labeled with each part or material in the design. Thoroughly labeling the design will help in the building stage as well as note how much of each material is needed.

Build: It is no surprise that this is typically kids’ favorite part of the process. Using the design sketch, kids get to construct their device. They may discover that their design materials or design function may not work as planned and will have to make necessary changes. In this event, a new design sketch should be made to note the changes.

Test: The testing phase can be the most exciting and sometimes the most discouraging part of the process. If their design fails, they should analyze what went wrong, then redesign and rebuild to give it another go. The key here is that failure is not only a part of the engineering design process; it is a critical part! Failure is what shapes designs to their optimal performance. Celebrate failure as an opportunity to make something better! Read more on the importance of failure in our post here.

Share the Solution: Most importantly, every engineering success should be shared. To make progress in this world, we must work together as a people; sharing our ideas, failures, and successes. This starts with even the smallest solutions in the smallest of classrooms. Solve problems, share your solutions, and make the world a better place!

Tool Kit for Little Engineers

When kids picture a scientist, they often think white lab coat, magnifying glass, beakers, and microscopes. But what do they see when they think of an engineer? What tools does an engineer need? I set out to solve this issue (and yes, I did use the EDP for this problem….I am an engineer after all!). Here is what my kids now use when tackling an engineering problem.

Even the littlest engineer needs the proper tools to truly problem solve like an engineer.

Even the littlest engineer needs the proper tools to truly problem solve like an engineer.

There are countless types of engineers that use a wide variety of tools to accomplish their specific tasks. We have put together the basics of what engineers use in the field for collecting data, taking measurements, and testing solutions. Expose your kids to different types of STEM fields with a variety of different engineering careers they may have never heard of with this fun Bingo Game.

Little Engineer's Tool Kit:

  • Pouch and/or Tool belt – to keep organized
  • Clipboard – to hold notes and worksheets
  • Calculator
  • Ruler
  • Tape measure
  • Level
  • Screw driver - to take things apart and put them together
  • Multimeter- used to investigate electrical problems and circuitry
  • Stopwatch (not shown)- used mostly during testing
  • Other considerations: Choose a writing utensil appropriate for the age of your students. I use washable fine-point marker for my 5 year old because whatever it is will inevitably get on things she is investigating. Many design challenges will also require construction tools based on your materials. This means scissors and tape are often a must too!

How To Use The Engineer Kit

When faced with a problem, always consult the Engineering Design Process and follow the steps to a solution. We have created a condensed and generic version of the EDP worksheets to use for any engineering design challenge. You can get them for free here. Print them off and attach to your clipboard along with some engineering graphing paper. This is where all ideas, notes, design work, and results should be recorded. Carry necessary tools for the task in the pouch or in the tool belt for easy access. Watch your kids come alive as they become little engineers—equipped to tackle any challenge!

Click for FREE engineering design process worksheets to guide your students!

Click for FREE engineering design process worksheets to guide your students!

Need engineering design challenge ideas? Head to our products page! Engineering design challenges are Stage 2 STEM (learn about STEM Stages here ).

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Happy Engineering!