5 Simple Engineering Projects For Kids

Lemon Battery by trvance on flickr

Great ideas from guest author Robert Wallace to help stimulate your child’s interest in engineering.

Engineering is the practical application of math and sciences. Engineering is also a career poised with tremendous growth and earning potential. Because of this, it is important to get kids interested in sciences and engineering early so they can prepare for this profession. One of the best ways to foster this is with simple projects that a child can build, thereby learning how to apply science towards a goal. Listed here are five very simple projects that any child can do with supervision.

Siege Engine

Every child loves destroying things. They start by knocking down blocks and eventually progress to fireworks. A simple and safe siege engine can be somewhere between those two extremes. Starting with popsicle sticks, some glue, a couple of chopsticks, and some string or a rubber band, a catapult can be made in as little as twenty minutes, not counting the time necessary for the glue to dry.

Pencil Catapult by gwhisen on flickr

Toilet Paper Engine

This project will give a child some idea how both steam engines and internal combustion motors work. By using an empty toilet paper tube and a ping pong ball as a piston and shaft, and the child’s breath as a power source, they can watch the engine turn a flywheel made of old compact disks. This project requires using scissors and a hot glue gun, so parental guidance is necessary.

Marble Race Track

For younger kids, this simple project is easy to make and can lead to hours of fun, while teaching the fundamentals of gravity. Divide a pool noodle in half lengthwise and use the inner hole, now a groove, as a track for the marbles to race down. You can shape the tracks however you want, curves, hills, or just a straight track, and as long as the start and the finish of each track are at the same level, the marbles will either always tie, or be close enough for a photo finish.

Periscope

Many people made a simple milk carton periscope as a child, but alas they are fragile and no one seems to buy milk in cartons anymore. PVC, however, is becoming more common and can be found cheaply in any hardware store. Starting with two PVC elbows and a short length of tube, cut slots in the elbows at a 45-degree angle and glue flat mirrors into the slots. Once assembled, the periscope can be used to teach your child how light works and how mirrors work.

Lemon Battery

All voltaic cells function as two different metal electrodes in an acid medium. This is true for a C-cell battery as well as the lead-acid battery in a car. Your child can make a simple voltaic cell using a lemon, a galvanized nail and a piece of copper wire. Simply poke both pieces of metal into an intact lemon and the current can be tested by either attaching alligator clips to an LED or even by simply having your child touch their tongue to the electrodes and feeling the mild shock or tingle. If you use the LED you must remember that the copper is the positive electrode and the nail is the negative. By making multiple batteries, you can explain to your child about parallel and series circuits.

A quick search of the internet will show thousands of projects that can done with your child in a weekend. The five listed here can be used to explain many of the basic sciences and how they can be applied, creating diverse engineering projects.

Engineer Robert Wallace is always happy to share information about engineering with his readers and is delighted when kids can get in on the fun of engineering. Robert is also a contributing writer at www.bestonlineengineeringdegree.com, a great resource for people who want to get their degree in engineering and take advantage of the opportunities that online education can provide.

Images source: Flickr.com, used under the Creative Commons License.  Click on the images above to visit the photographers’ photostreams.


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