Research shows that including STEM into a child’s curricula can activate a lifelong interest in science and even has the potential to direct their future career. Because they are already so curious about the world, it isn’t difficult for parents and teachers to steer a student’s interest and wonder toward the intricacies of how the world works.
Engineering projects for kids are a fun and engaging way for students in elementary, middle, and high school to explore the world around them. Incorporating engineering concepts into your child’s learning doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive, though.
To get you started, we’ve outlined a sampling of engineering activities for kids appropriate for various grade levels. The goal of these projects is not only to build your child’s skills and confidence in engineering topics, but to remind them that science can truly be fun!
STEM Engineering Activities for Elementary School
At the elementary level, engineering experiments for kids should be tied to the main science topics and learning objectives that they are covering in their elementary curriculum. They should give children the opportunity to apply the science they are learning with engaging, hands-on explorations. Have fun incorporating some of the ideas below into your elementary classroom or homeschool experience.
- Use engineering as a topic starter on car rides or during wait times. Have your child think of a problem that needs to be solved (e.g., Our dog barks and wakes up baby sister.) Then brainstorm creative engineering solutions that might fix the problem.
- Kids can’t help being fascinated by catapults. Combine a medieval history lesson with an engineering challenge by having your student build a mini catapult. Let your child choose the materials for the catapult, target, and projectile. Experiment with how different projectile materials affect the aim.
- Design Squad Global is a PBS kids show that highlights real-world problems and how engineering can solve those problems. Explore the many hands-on engineering activities that encourage kids to build with things from around the house.
- What is the tallest structure you can build using just ice pop sticks and clothespins? What about using playing cards and paper clips?
- Did you know you can build a marble run out of playdough? Use a cookie sheet as your supporting base and rest it at an angle. Create ruts for the marbles to roll against by creating rolled up tubes of playdough. Don’t forget to create different paths your marbles could take along the way.
STEM Engineering Activities for Middle School
With parent and teacher support, middle schoolers are ready to take an even more active role in their own engineering education. They can construct graphs and charts, discuss and compare results, and draw conclusions on the success of a design. They can even start to recognize where their design may have gone wrong and come up with ideas for improvement and redesign. To complement their middle school curriculum, look for opportunities to include some of these easy engineering projects in your student’s school day.
- Are you studying birds? Then it’s time for the “bird nest challenge.” See if your child can construct a nest using just recycled or unused fabric or materials from around your house. Practice with different materials to see which ones can best hold the weight of a couple of hard-boiled eggs.
- Learning about force and motion? Then pull out the dominos to experiment with chain reactions! This is a great way to study topics like speed, cause and effect, motion, and kinetic energy.
- Did you know that sometimes art and science collide? One great way to help your middle schooler practice introductory coding skills is by combining them with engineering crafts for kids. Give it a try by working together on this binary code keychain.
- Ready to explore air resistance? It doesn’t get simpler than designing a parachute. Using simple materials like coffee filters, plastic grocery bags, and balloons, give your child an afternoon of experimentation to discover which shapes, materials, and constructions take the longest to reach the ground when dropped from a ladder.
- Do you have an animal lover in your house? Studying the engineering instincts of birds, bees, and other creatures who build their homes from scratch is an eye opener. PBS has a wonderful series of videos on animal homes that will give you insights into the engineering principles used by different species.
STEM Engineering Activities for High School
It can be tempting to assume that if your high schooler isn’t interested in math and science, that they won’t be interested in engineering. But engineering is actually more about curiosity. Is your teen interested in how things work? Then you might just have an engineer-in-training! One great way to integrate engineering into your high school curriculum is by finding creative ways to explore engineering principles across various subjects. For high school students, that might include some of the following:
- This handy project will not only challenge your student but also help them reach for those items that are out of arm’s reach. Check out this quick video on how to make an extending grabber made out of items you probably already have lying around.
- Math offers so many opportunities to tie in engineering principles. Many of the Time4Learning math courses such as Algebra I, Algebra II and Geometry feature engaging Performance Tasks that require students to design or build through technology.
- If your child has an interest in the environment, don’t miss the Global Connection Activities in the Environmental Science elective course. Students are asked to address an environmental concern or topic by writing a response about how it affects their lives, or by offering suggestions and solutions to a particular environmental issue.
- If you live in a cold climate, you know how crucial it is to have a good heating system — and also how expensive it can be. Have your child create this homemade solar air heater. Not only will they pick up a few impressive engineering skills, but they’ll also save the family money and keep everyone nice and toasty when the weather drops.
- Speaking of dropping, the Time4Learning Physics course features an egg drop project that asks students to design or build a device that will keep an egg safe and intact when dropped from a high distance.
Hands-on engineering activities offer so many benefits. They help build science and math skills, teach children that there is no single “right” answer to a problem, and possibly even open your child’s eyes to a STEM-related hobby or career.