Engineering is a sometimes forgotten lesson. When we build, explore new materials, and create we our engineering. We are asking questions, solving problems, finding difficult solutions, all while playing.
Why does it matter?
Teaching engineering to young children matters because they learn practical life skills. It is so much more than building with blocks. When we construct and create we are exploring the world. When children desire a certain look to their structure they must ask questions to make it happen. We can not always use a round block and expect it to stay on top of a flat block. So they will need to problem solve. What can they use to make the round block stay up there? Maybe they need braces, or something adhesive. Strengthening problem solving skills in one area will strengthen the skills in other areas. If children have problems with another student, or a completely different part of the day, they will ask the same questions to find solutions. When children are solving their own problems they have higher self esteem, and are in general more independent and happier.
Anything we use to build with can be an engineering material. Most often we think of blocks, but it can be so much more. Think of styrofoam, playdough; recycle materials like water bottles, paper towel tubes, cardboard boxes; tape; glue, and everything else that we can use to build. Children will need to examine the properties of their materials. “Is this strong?” “Is this easy to balance?” “How do these bristle blocks work together?” “Is it heavy or light?” “What shape is it.” Let them discover under your gentle guiding touch. Some materials children can be 100% independent, while others will need to be more teacher lead. Letting children run free with bottles of glue isn’t always the best use of materials. Teach children to be respectful and not wasteful.
As a Center
Engineering should be a regular center in your room. To teach new lessons, or to change the play, rotate the materials regularly. Allowing children to build for multiple days can lead to amazing works. The best way to do this is to set a very clear visual space such as a rug, or low tabletop, and let the children know anything that stays in that space can stay up until Friday. Every Monday we start building again, and every Friday we put it all away. Preserve the amazing structures by taking photographs and hanging them in that center. Some children will proudly take a photo with their work, and it’ll eliminate any sadness that it’s time to start over. Using other inspiring structures of real buildings from around the world can be a great addition to the center.