I was once a struggling engineering student, so I have a special appreciation for the courage and creativity of kids who really want to know how stuff works and aren’t afraid to jump in and figure it out. Now that one of my own kids is convinced she wants to be an engineer when she grows up, I’ve been digging for resources to help her explore her interests. Because honestly, gears, circuits, and programming still kind of scare me.
Here, three awesome online engineering resources for kids to help girls and boys start putting their curious minds to work solving the problems of the future. We need them!
Formerly called iD 365, Tech Rocket is fresh, fun, and colorful, with online courses in programming and game design, created especially for kids. The programming courses include iOS and Java, and teach kids how to make their own apps — perhaps even the next Angry Birds. Their game design courses include Minecraft mods (of course) and a ton of other Minecraft customizations, plus game engines like Unity, Unreal, and Game Salad.
Safety is a huge priority for Tech Rocket, with COPPA compliance and close monitoring by site staff which is a major plus for me. Subscriptions start at $29/month, with a nice discount for a yearly subscription, and that covers all courses, forums, games, and even an exclusive Minecraft server that most kids should go nuts for.
Curiosity Machine offers free engineering challenges online, letting kids and families work through the engineering design process and then what’s really cool, is they get feedback from actual scientists and engineers. Choose from project categories including aerospace, biomechanics, and civil, electrical and mechanical engineering.
You’ll be happy to know that Curiosity Machine challenges use basic materials — no need to drop big bucks on expensive components — and they all seem to present fun, attainable goals, such as building a bird and controlling its flight (just like the ants did in A Bug’s Life as your kids might remind you), or creating a ten-inch suspension bridge that can hold fifteen pennies. I especially love that volunteer mentors check on the submitted designs and offer input and encouragement, which takes the pressure off non-techie parents who may not know an ohm from an ampere.
Staffed by scientists who collaborate with universities and government agencies, the Science Buddies website is filled with the kinds of cool science ideas that kids love to do at home. From simple at-home science activities that little kids will love (Mummified hot dogs, anyone?) to brain-stretching, prize-winning science fair projects, it’s a great place to explore and get inspired. Science activities include testing the strength of eggshells, making your own stethoscope, and building a bathtub raft that’s powered by physics; and fortunately for us parents, nearly all of them require materials easily found around the house.
The science fair project ideas are more structured, rated according to difficulty, and categorized by discipline, including engineering, life science, and computer science. Even if you don’t have a science fair coming up, these projects would still make awesome weekend activities for older kids, and for parents like me who don’t want to see yet another baking soda volcano erupt on the kitchen counter.