Starting engineering early sets young learners up for success in school and life. But before asking a preschooler to engage in an engineering activity, it’s important to have a reasonable expectation of what that looks like and what an age-appropriate challenge for a young child to tackle might be. To design Wee Engineer, our preschool/Pre-K engineering curriculum that will launch Fall 2018, we first broke down the practices (or habits of mind) that define engineering and asked ourselves a simple question, “What does it look like when a preschooler engineers?” After hours of observing preschoolers in various settings, reviewing literature on child development, talking with preschool educators, and testing our own preschool engineering activities, here’s what we learned about engineering practices for this young age group.
We are so excited about our upcoming early childhood curricula—and we know you are too! Every time we post an update, we hear an enthusiastic chorus of “That’s so exciting! When will it be available?” Both Wee Engineer and EiE for Kindergarten have tentative release dates of summer 2018. To tide you over until then, we compiled our most informative early childhood curriculum updates from the last few years to give you a comprehensive view of our process so far. Read on and make sure you visit the original posts to learn about the origins of our early education initiative and to read our favorite anecdote about smiley face erasers.
Even before we began designing our preschool curriculum, Wee Engineer, we knew that we would have to create new activities, different context-setting tools, and even a new Engineering Design Process (EDP). But we never thought we’d be trying our hand at songwriting! At EiE, we have a very involved curriculum development process. We meet with teachers and specialists and learn what works in the classroom. During an early Wee Engineer focus group, a teacher suggested setting the steps of the EDP to music with accompanying dance moves, because it would help teachers reinforce the vocabulary with their kids. The other teachers enthusiastically agreed, and they convinced us that an EDP Song would enhance the curriculum and get kids excited about the process they were engaging in. Never to be intimidated, our curriculum team got together to figure how to engineer the perfect EDP song.
At EiE, we’re constantly improving our curriculum as we discover more about how children learn. Our preschool pilot tests have been full of surprises and insights. Our testing has shown us how much preschoolers love to learn, but it’s also taught us that sometimes children’s knowledge of the properties of materials doesn’t override their drive to use the coolest-looking material—at least not at first! Katy Laguzza, the senior curriculum developer and lead of our Early Childhood project, shared a hilarious scene she observed in a preschool classroom that helped our team to understand the unique perspectives of preschoolers. The class was engineering a raft (a CD) to float a toy above water. To make the raft float, they would choose materials to attach to the bottom of the CD using Velcro.
Early Childhood STEM Education | Wednesday, May 2
|Engineering = hands-on play in a framework|
When our son was three, he would spend hours playing with wooden blocks, making a highway for toy cars, a pen for toy animals, or just the highest tower he could stack. We didn’t think of it this way, but he was engineering.
Early childhood educators have always recognized how building with blocks (and similar hands-on activities) help children develop motor skills while at the same time exercising their creativity. But these activities can also be framed as authentic engineering. That’s something the EiE curriculum team is working on right now: a framework for preschool engineering.