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In a previous post I wrote about how my husband and I make math fun for our kids through everyday situations and games. As Christmas starts to approach, I thought I would share some toys that introduce engineering concepts to kids through play. Studies have shown that kids learn the best when play is a part of the learning process. As I’ve watched my kids and nieces grow up, I’ve definitely seen how the studies are true. Legos have taught my son to follow instructions in order to build a car, and he’s learned to spell words through silly songs. Below is a list of a few toys that introduce specific engineering concepts. Some I’ve bought for gifts, some teach concepts I struggled with in college. I am a firm believer that the more we expose our children to at a young age, the easier it becomes for them to learn the details when they’re older.
Smithsonian Motor-Works: I bought this as a gift for my niece and am soooo excited about it. Basically she will get to build a simple 4 cylinder engine, which is pretty cool. But then they take it a step further and make it battery operated so she can then see the engine move. With the clear engine casing, I love the idea that she will see what move of us never do, namely the inside of an engine. She’ll get to see valves open and close, spark plugs fire and pistons drive the crankshaft. While I’m sure she won’t be all that interested it the names of all the moving parts, I can just imagine the fun she’ll have putting it together, and the excitement she’ll feel when she sees all the parts moving.
Smithsonian Jet Works Working Jet Engine Model: I almost bought this for my niece for Christmas. Building the engine promotes problem solving skills, which is essential to being in a technical field. While putting the engine together, the instructions teach about the different parts of the engine. For example, instead of calling the “fan” a propeller, it correctly calls it a turbine. Reviews have also said the instructions make the assembler familiar with terms like combustion chamber, shaft, thrust, turbojet, and turboprop. Really understanding the principles about these concepts is not that important as a child. But just hearing them helps to become familiar with the terms, creating a natural comfort with them. To me technical information is like learning a language. The more often you hear it while growing up, the easier it is to understand as you get older.
Snap Circuits Alternative Energy Green: In college I only took one class about electrical circuits, but when I tarted my first job, I quickly realized that electrical equipment ( and there for electrical systems) were everywhere. I really wished that I ad learned more and better understood electrical principles better Most of my career I had a fear/respect for electricity and those who worked on it. But I know but as I asked my electrical counterparts more about what they did, the ess like magic it all seemed. One f my coworkers showed me how electrical systems are very similar to fluid flow, and then it all started to click for me. The thing is, I didn’t realize this until almost 10 years in to my career. I think that if I’d had toys more like this Snap circuited system, I would have had less fear of this discipline of engineering. I gave a simpler one to my niece a couple of years ago, and she was able to complete it on her own and really enjoyed putting all the different circuits together and see different outcomes. I thought the Alternative Energy package was neat because you can build several different types of circuits to explore alternative energy options.
K’NEX Education – Intro To Simple Machines: Levers and Pulleys: In a previous post I talked about how I struggled with kinematics. The first test in the class was all about pulleys and forces, and for some reason I was really confused by these concepts. My classmates, on the other hand, found the concepts easy. Of course, the majority of my classmates had played with legos, built with tinker toys, and worked on their cars in high school. I truly believe that exposing kids to concepts of engineering early will prevent fear and help in understanding physics concepts. So when I found this K’NEX pulleys and levers kit, I thought it was perfect to introducing kids to kinetic principles. K’Nex also makes a kit that introduces kids to gears, K’NEX Education – Intro To Simple Machines: Gears.
Battat Take-A-Part 4X4: My parents bought the Battat 4×4 for my son one Christmas. He immediately took out the power tool, and started putting the truck together. It took him a little while to figure out how to use the toy drill, but once he did he spent the next few hours assembling and disassembling the truck over and over again. As an engineer, there are certain skills we are assumed to have once we have a job, but are not taught in school. One of those skills, especially for a mechanical engineer, is familiarity with tools and assembling things. From this toy my son learned that a switch controls the way the drill turns, that right secures the bolt, left loosens it, and there is a sequence to use when assembling and disassembling. These are all skills I did not really learn (sadly), until I had my first internship. Battat has a great selection of take apart toys, which includes the Battat Take-A-Part Roadster, Battat Take-A-Part Airplane, and Battat Take-A-Part Crane.
Looking for other Gift Ideas? Check out some of my other posts!
Tinker Crate: Circuits and Optics
11 Engineering Toys for Girls
25 Dollar Tree Toys for Exploring STEM
8 Essential Woodworking Tools for Beginners
15 Unexpected STEM Gifts for Toddlers
Teach Your Kid to be a Reliability Engineer!
Teach Your Kid to be a Mechanical Engineer!
Teach Your Kid to be a Project Engineer!
Be a Process Engineer: Play “How’s it Made?”
Learn about Forces at the Splash Park!
Exploring Energy: How Are Height and Distance Related?
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10 Books that Inspire Kids to be Engineers