How to Entertain Your Kids with Engineering
So you are at home, so are the kids, and explaining to them the finer points of a poorly understood pandemic as justification as to why they can't play outside doesn't sound like something you want to do for the 1000th time? Don't worry we've got some ideas that will keep them (and hopefully you) amused whilst staying indoors.
Firstly, I should probably admit I don't have kids... however, we are all basically big kids and I have done some research with some colleagues for further inspiration! (Not too much inspiration though, as Ioan thinks a session on the indoor trainer whilst looking after a baby is acceptable multitasking! See his blog here)
There's an easy place to begin that I'm sure many of you will be familiar with - Lego. The fundamental engineering meets toy big hitter! but how can we use it to make things more educational and fun? Here's a few ideas:
- Boat building - within a certain size limit build a boat capable of carrying the biggest load (weigh some stones). Good old Archimedes at play here!
- Build a water filtration system. Great for teaching about water purification and you can make some "dirty" water (glitter etc) and see what they can filter out.
- Rubber band powered lego car
- Mini Lego gearbox (or if you are feeling particularly adventurous an Antikythera mechanism!)
- After a big project? How about the Vestas Lego turbine - great for teaching your kids a bit about renewables while you build!
Ok, Lego too easy for you? Already exhausted that avenue? How about some ideas that don't require a box full of specifically shaped plastic bricks. Technology for Fun (link) has loads of ideas for different engineering projects with items you can find around your home. We highly recommend getting one of their books! Some of our favourite ideas include:
- A water rocket (especially as the weather is getting nicer)
- A counterweight trebuchet
- A periscope
- A fan powered boat
Ready for some top level stuff?
Break out the timber and build a Da Vinci Bridge! (link)
Not so difficult to do, but you'll have fun explaining it: kicking a football and explaining the Magnus effect (or one of those really smooth "floaty" ones, as you can get some good reverse Magnus effect going on there!)
Do your kids cycle? How about some essential bike maintenance lessons:
- Fixing a puncture
- Changing brake pads
- Replacing a cable
- Indexing gears
Got a project car? Let the kids help out! Teach them how brakes actually work, the mechanical trickery that is a limited slip differential and what happens when you change gear! (Warning, working anywhere near a car, kids will manage to get unbelievably filthy!)
Finally, if you want to fill quite a chunk of time how about a solar powered rotating garden? Incorporating some nice woodworking skills, solar panels, a little bit of electronics and resulting in a really useful final product! You can go as large as this one (link), or scale it back to suit your garden.
Before you start cracking into some of the more advanced ones, give a thought to health and safety, they are your kids after all!