Did you know that it’s National Engineers Week? Yeah, me neither. But once I realized, I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to share my favorite STEM resources for kids with a focus on engineering.
My husband is a (non-practicing) engineer, so STEM education is a huge part of our daily lives, but not in the way that people might assume. We don’t drill our kids with timed worksheets or try to teach our 3-year-old the basics of quantum physics (ok, my husband did, but only that one time. No, that’s actually a true story.). Instead, it’s about finding opportunities for our kiddos to play with math and science concepts at their own level, without them realizing they’re learning or pulling a “gotcha – there’s education happening” move similar to what grownup grownups do when they hide vegetables in the brownies. It’s also about helping children investigate, question, test, fail (and fail again) and try once more. So as much as it tires me to tears some days, I remind myself that asking “why” a million times is the basis for really important critical thinking skills (and then I sigh inwardly while I whip out my phone to start Googling for answers).
On that note, here’s a quick round-up of my favorite engineering resources for kids. There are dozens of other spectacular websites, books, games and teaching aides, but I highlight these because they are simple, enduring and accessible (save for the pricetag on those Magnatiles).
PS: None of my posts are sponsored and don’t contain affiliate links, which means I don’t receive a commission when you click on the links below, even if you buy an item. If I recommend something, it’s because I own it, genuinely love it or otherwise use it with my own kids (and like sharing cool stuff with other people).
The National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) offers a Junior membership track – for $5. You read that right – five bucks. Membership is open to students in grades 6-12 and includes pre-collegiate prep, STEM activities and mentoring. In addition, the Society’s website also has a host of free resources for kids in grades K-12 as well as parents and educators that includes internship postings, fun events like this First Lego League Jr. competition, camps and webinars.
Some of the men and women that I went to undergrad with were very active in the local and national NSBE organization. It wasn’t on my psychology and human development career path radar back then, but as I’ve talked with them in adulthood, a few including a couple of non-practicing engineers like a doctor and a banker friend, still mention how instrumental NSBE was for getting them to where they are in their careers today.
We’re just at the age where our daughter can participate in some of the school and community-based events (she’s 7) like this bridge building challenge, but if we let her, she’d sign up for every one of them. She loves crafts and tinkering, so it is right up her alley. We joined a no-stress popsicle stick bridge competition last year and had a lot of fun. Often, entry fees are free or nominal and all of the materials provided. If it sounds remotely interesting, I’d encourage you to check with your child’s science teacher or do a quick Google search to find similar events/competitions in your area.
If we can keep only one toy, I’m pretty sure the MagnaTiles would make the cut. I share more thoughts on why here, but in short, Magna-Tiles are a brilliantly simple, open-ended toy that kids can enjoy from 2+ years to infinity. Note: I’m pretty sure my husband and daughter will have a problem with my mis-use of “infinity” here, but that’s ok. The magnets on these magnetic building blocks mean kids are able to construct much taller and more stable structures than they might with ordinary blocks, which adds to the fun. Expensive yes, but if you can afford it and are considering a new toy anyway, worth it. We bought just one set to begin and keep adding on every birthday or holiday.
Have your kids ever stumped you with a question like “but where does my poop go after I flush”? This encyclopedia-like book by author David Macaulay explains the ins and outs of tons of everyday machines, from 3D-printers to pneumatric drills to batteries. I hesitate to put an age range on books and toys because kids vary so much in their interests and abilities but I’ll say this is a big, heavy book (nearly 400 pages) with pretty dense, technical text. That said, the illustrations are colorful and you can always condense the explanations to make them age-appropriate. It makes an enduring gift for kids of all ages and even the engineering-minded adults in your life.
Pro-tip: If you really want the precise explanation for how the toilet works, you’re welcome to borrow our copy of Toilet, also by Macaulay.
I love love love both of Andrea Beaty’s books (Rosie Revere Engineer and the follow-up Iggy Peck Architect). A female engineer, real-life lessons like standing up to critics and persevering against failure all in a fun read-aloud story… what’s not to love?! This is obviously a picture book but it’s sweet story that transcends age.
We ordered a TinkerCrate subscription for a year when our daughter was about 5 year old. The activities are really designed for older kids (ages 9-16 years) to do independently, but we did them with our then-kindergartner and it most worked just fine. Subscriptions cost about $20 per month, including shipping. I think we stopped the subscription because we weren’t using the kits as fast as they were arriving (toy overload), but I still gift subscriptions occasionally and always get positive feedback. There is usually a first-time discount (currently 30% off) so you can try a single crate and see if it’s a good fit.
What STEM or STEAM activities do your kids love? I welcome your ideas below.