Raising little scientists and engineers

You’ve probably heard all about the shortage of scientists and engineers in our economy – the very people that drive innovation and progress and keep our economy going are officially a dying breed. The cause of the endangerment of these two underappreciated species? An educational system which has perfected the formation of the call center worker, the Wallmart clerk, the bureaucrat, the police officer and the convict. Schools don’t like kids who ask questions (most people don’t when they, themselves don’t know the answers). They don’t want their students to develop critical thinking skills – they might start questioning teachers’ authority, methods, the wisdom of having cheerleaders and a flag in every classroom. Teachers shouldn’t have to handle students like that.

If schools won’t tolerate critical thinking and questioning, it’s up to you to cultivate a home environment which encourages experimentation, reasoning and learning. The average home is chocked full of gadgets and gizmos that attract children. Young children like to take them apart and look at the insides and try to put them together again. Unfortunately, the final part of that is often more difficult than they expected and their parents castigate them for such behavior. Instead of discouraging them, you can let them play with toys which can be taken apart and easily reassembled. For young one, Duplo and Lego are great. Not only are they easy to understand, a child can easily use the materials to design and create their own toys, models and so on.

As children get older, they can be let loose on more complicated stuff. You can combine dedicated learning kits with fun DVDs about how such things work, plus books and manuals to learn from. Encourage kids to write down what they have learned. This helps them to remember it, serves as a useful reference and can also be used to build on with their own designs and creations. Meccano has been popular for decades with children who enjoyed Lego and now want to expand their play and learning into the world of girders, brackets and transformers. But there are seemingly limitless possibilities. Your child might prefer a circuit board.

At some point, you are going to find your child taking apart your computer, your chainsaw or some other beloved contraption. Before this happens, you might want to encourage them to go through it together. Start with something that’s easy to explain and understand such as a small motor and then a small motor. You’ll probably find yourself on a learning curve when you come to take apart modern household gadgets. Take out your old garage door opener and give it to them. Ask them to see if they can figure out how it works and to explain it to you. See how far they can get rebuilding it. There’s a lot of information on garage door openers at this website, supported by Garage Automatics. You might want to get yourself a new garage door opener while you’re there.

Encouraging your child to think about the world in such a way gives a great boost to their IQ. It will help them solve problems completely unrelated to mechanics or engineering. It will also make financial successes of them. Salaries in scientific and engineering fields are already growing much faster than the average. Vacant positions are going unfilled across the country, and there is fierce international competition to attract the brightest minds from around the world. Compare this with the field of construction, in which there is only one job advertised online per six unemployed construction workers.

Don’t push your child into doing anything they don’t like and let them go down their own paths. If you are concerned that your child spends a lot more time playing football than usual, or a lot more time playing computer games than other kids (hardly possible), it may be that they are applying their scientific thinking to those tasks. Your child may be trying to find out why the trajectory of the ball curves when it is kicked, for example. The child who plays computer games may be seeing right through the ‘face’ of the game, and interacting with the program, instead, finding unexpected ways to win.