Smart Machines & Factories
Children love engineering…
Published:  20 October, 2017

The great news is that young children really, really like being engineers! How do we know? Last year over 23,000 pupils interviewed engineers and answered the question ‘If you were an engineer - what would you do?’ by identifying problems and inventing solutions. Susan Scurlock, CEO and Founder of Primary Engineer, reports.

Accompanying their inventions schematic were letters explaining why an engineer should choose theirs to build. Their inventions ranged from the downright brilliant to the utterly hilarious, all were thoughtful and most were designed to make life better for others - isn’t that how engineers describe their work, solving problems and making life better for people and society at large?

As with many ideas it seemed a little too simple to have an impact on the huge problem that is inspiring young people towards engineering careers – but it has done just that! Reception teachers have asked for the competition to be expended to include 3-5-year olds and, before you roll your eyes in the manner of what on earth would they invent, last year a 4-year-old took a prize for her rainbow music box; an invention which sprayed water through a prism and played music so she could dance under a rainbow. Perhaps worthy of a ‘patent pending’?

But it’s not just the teachers and pupils this project has enthused, parents have been overheard at exhibitions saying how their children could, and should, become engineers; helping break a huge barrier to aspirations towards engineering – lack of parent support.

This project has created ties to universities and engineering industry. Universities are using the ideas as degree projects, blogging the design and build process so that children and pupils can follow along and see how an idea becomes a functioning prototype.

Just before Christmas, the Trolley for the Elderly, designed by a 10 year old to help his grandmother lift the shopping from a shopping trolley into the boot of her car, will find its new home at the Glasgow Science Centre; inspiring visitors over the next 12 months.

Teachers have told us that what is inspiring children to engage in the project is quite simply an engineer reads their letters, considers their inventions and gives them a grade. Their ‘grown-up’ personalised certificate is kept with pride. When you listen to the rhetoric around engineering and inspiring generations this one factor is so interesting, who knew - kids really do value the opinion and approval of engineers!!

This year the programme has expanded to many more regions and we are holding our breath as the numbers could well double. Primary Engineer has been inviting engineers to host video conferencing interviews with pupils so that they can take their laptop on a walk around the office or site – I have to say my personal favourite was the inside of a submarine – beat that!

The judging of so many entries has also proved somewhat challenging, last year saw us knocking on a lot of doors with boxes of drawings of inventions. It is fair to say that many said it was one of the best, inspirational and funny days of their working lives. Where else would you grade the value of a vibrating toilet seat for the elderly to stop legs going numb, or the camera over a bedroom door to automatically lock when a boy’s little sister approached?

We are always on the hunt for engineers who can spare time to support our programmes in whatever manner they can. It is worth remembering at this point that primary pupils at least, think you rock, and so do well.

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