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Engineering in the Early Years

Engineering in the Early Years

What is engineering?

Engineers are professional problem-solvers that do so using science and maths. They face a problem (for the community or environment) and then design, improve and build machines, structures and tools to solve those problems.

What type of problems do engineers solve?

  • I need to go from Dublin to Cork – they design roads
  • I need to put this table from Ikea together – they design the tools
  • I need a couch that turns into a bed – they design furniture
  • I need a place for my kids to play outdoors – they design playground structures
  • I need a transport to go to places – they design cars

And so on…

What does engineering look like during childhood and playtime?

Have you heard about the term STEM in education? It stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics. These 4 concepts interact together when children are playing and doing activities that involve any of these subjects. Building with blocks, adding objects into a box, balancing toys and stacking, messy play… there are lots of simple activities that involve lots of STEM concepts without even realising.

That’s why PLAY is so important: children get familiar with the basics of Science (mixing ingredients for example), Technology (coding toys, directions…), Engineering (lego, building, creating..) and mathematics (counting, patterns…) without even noticing they are learning. The more STEM related experiences they have during the early years, the easier it will be for them to learn and grow their understanding of more complex concepts as they grow older.

What skills are improved with engineering games?

  • Problem-solving: I need something, how do I do it / make it / improve it?
  • Critical Thinking: Is this good enough? Will it hold its weight? Is this material ok for this?
  • Communication: Explain what I am doing to others, describe the material, describe the problem, express what I need, express how I feel about it (frustrated, happy, proud…)
  • Creativity: Think outside the box, find new materials, combine them and create.
  • Curiosity: Be curious about the environment, what’s needed and how I can fix it.
  • Social skills: understanding others, listening, team work, respect other’s opinions.
  • Imagination: when something doesn’t exist, it is only possible if you can imagine it. You can imagine and predict what you are going to make and only then you can go for it. Trial and error will help you to get there.


What are the best engineering activities in the early years?

Blocks – Lego, Duplo, magnetic blocks, wooden blocks…. Building things with a purpose. For example: I have a few toy dragons, let’s build them a fort!

Nature – build a bird house, a bug house, a snail house, a fort, etc. Using leaves, sticks, rocks, mud, water, seeds, etc. Using toy trucks or tractors to carry items around is also part of the engineering fun.

Build structures – using sticks with marshmallows as a “glue”, or blocks with foam, or toilet rolls, straws, string, paper, egg cartons, cups and any other recycled materials …. Time to get creative! But always with a purpose. A book can be a good start to read a story and come up with a project from it (for example the three little pigs where you can build a house using different materials afterwards).

Build roads – Using tape, paper, a long board, etc. to connect a path and bring a vehicle from A to B.

Ball run – It can be with a domino effect track, or with toilet rolls stuck with tape on a wall or with a specific ball run game. Again, our goal is to bring an object from A to B so we have to anticipate the journey and learn from the trial and error process.


Discovery Playtime toys to support engineering related skills:

Sensory blocks

Rainbow blocks

Architect rainbow set

Connetix magnetic tiles

Way to Play roads

Recycle me playsets

Magnet movers

Mad Mattr

Bioblo eco bloks

Coding critters

Traffic blocks

Linking discs

Loose parts

Road tape with car

Design and drill vehicles



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