By Lori Melton
Per the U.S. Department of Commerce Economics & Statistics Administration, there were 9 million STEM workers in 2015 and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math) occupations are projected to grow by 8.9 percent from 2014 to 2024. If your child is curious about how things work, loves to take things apart and put them back together, builds Lego models, or enjoys tinkering with mechanical items, he or she is already engaging in engineering-related activities. If you’re looking for ways to support your child’s engineering interest, consider these three ideas.
Build a Roller Coaster and Ride One
There may not be a better example of a modern engineering marvel than a roller coaster. K’NEX construction sets have been used to help kids learn STEM concepts inside and outside of the classroom for years. Everything from simple machines, levers, and pulleys set to one of their highly-detailed, battery-operated roller coaster kits demonstrate key engineering and physics principles. All the parts work together in a specific sequence and design to create a miniature roller coaster.
On a real coaster, structural engineers use computer design tools to calculate the forces and stresses passengers experience on a ride. They must also design and build it with rider thrill and safety being top considerations. After your “coaster designer” builds their small-scale working model, plan a trip to a carnival or amusement park and ride a coaster together to experience an exciting engineering masterpiece firsthand.
Visit a Transportation Museum
Planes, trains, and automobiles wouldn’t exist without brilliant engineering designs. Transportation museums pay tribute to the engineering, design, and craftsmanship behind many different modes of transportation. The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. is one of the biggest, most popular transportation-related museums in the country. See the Wright Brothers’ first powered airplane, the Space Shuttle Discovery, Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis plane in which he completed the first-ever transatlantic flight in 1927 and many more life-changing historical exhibits.
If you can’t find a dedicated transportation museum in your area and don’t want to make a long trip, visit your nearest old train depot, take in an auto or air show or pop the hood on your own car and show your child how an engine works.
Join an RC Club
Building radio-control helicopters, cars, planes, and boats and racing them is a popular engineering-related hobby for RC enthusiasts of all ages, all over the world. At an RC Club, you’ll have high-flying and/or fast-driving fun while meeting members who also enjoy RC building and racing. Some RC events raise money for charity or offer cash prizes to winners. Specific clubs may support one kind of vehicle (i.e., planes only) while others welcome multiple types. Local hobby shops and online retailers like Amazon.com usually offer a wide selection of RC model kits, grouped by age and skill level. RCUniverse.com is an excellent resource for finding an RC Club and upcoming events in your area.