This August, the week before we left for school, a few friends and I took a day trip to Warren Dunes State Park. The weather was perfect- we spent the whole day lounging on the beach, climbing the dunes, and wading in Lake Michigan. At one point during the day we decided to make a sand castle. We really concentrated on trying to mould the perfect towers and archways- before I decided it would be more entertaining to bury my friend Cris’ legs in the sand and make him into a mermaid. But why do kids, or in the case of me and my friends, high school graduates find these engineering games, like building a sandcastle- or a mermaid- so entertaining?
Introducing the fun of engineering to kids early on is important. It builds skills in math and science, teaches failure as part of the learning process, and makes them think creatively and critically about how to complete a task. Building these kinds of skills early on is important because it gives kids opportunities in the engineering fields, while also cultivating engaged citizens.
One exhibit at the WonderLab features KEVA planks, which are specifically designed for S.T.E.M. based learning. The exhibit also includes two little catapults, which can be used to knock down the newly erected structures. There are always kids building elaborate, crazy structures just to knock them down as soon as they’re done being built.
So, this morning I decided to see what all the fuss was about. At first I attempted to build something extremely large and time consuming, but I kept knocking my blocks over as I try tried to add to my structure. I began to get more and more frustrated as my hands got less and less steady. Rather than giving up as my structure was collapsing around me I decided to change my strategy. I realized the base of my structure was too small and couldn’t support a structure as large as my dreams. So, I took apart the top and built a broader base, which ended up making my whole building much more stable. I do have to say, I can see why the kids love knocking them down. Using the catapult was the most exciting part of the whole experience!
Once I was done with the KEVA planks I moved over to today’s “Try It Table” featuring a few games available in the WonderLab gift store. There were a couple engineering based games out today, but my personal favorite was Zimbbos! In this game players have to make a pyramid of elephants. Kids take turns rolling the dice to see how many elephants they have to stack on the pyramid, and the person to put the last elephant on the pyramid wins. This game is perfect for very young children, ages 3+. It teaches color recognition, counting, and develops manual dexterity. I found that it was a fun way to engage with kids in the museum.
So when we think about building anything from sandcastles or sand-mermaids, to elephant pyramids it’s easy to believe kids are just having mindless fun. However, we know that these types of activities actually give kids the opportunity to build S.T.E.M. skills they will carry all the way into adulthood.
Abby Bainbridge is studying Journalism with a concentration in Public Relations, as a member of IU’s class of 2021. She is a writing and content intern in the marketing department at WonderLab Museum of Science, Health, and Technology. She can be found at the WonderLab every week crafting text about hands-on science and playing with the catapults.