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Engineering Presentation to 5 and 6 year olds

Engineering Presentation to 5 and 6 year olds

Engineering Presentation to 5 and 6 year olds

I need some help on this one.  My 6 year old son told his teacher that I am an engineer and I should come speak to his class after one of their recent science discussions.  She has now requested that I come do this.  I am up againist tough competition.  A few weeks back a fireman came in to discuss fire safety.  He gave them a goody bag with all types of neat things in it.  Please give me your ideas for a good topic that will make these kids remember the engineering career choice in the future.

My son tells me I need to bring something for each kid if I really want them to remember the presentation or demonstration.

RE: Engineering Presentation to 5 and 6 year olds

Bring a bicyle.   

Take it apart - better yet - Have the kids (boys and girls!) take it apart with wrenches, screwdrivers, and the proper tools.  

As each part comes off, talk about the stress in the steel, the forces, the movement of the part, the tensions, the strains in the thread, the lubrication in the grease, the plastics, the paint, the chrome, the rubber, the grip of the tires on the road, the looseness (or tightness of the screws) the sizes (bring a little caliper and a tape measure, the diameters.  Bring a magnifying glass = Have them look at the scratches and the rust and the threads.

Don't just talk.  DO!   (Better yet - Have them "DO" it....)

(And I'm the one who pulled our sailboat and trailer to the high school for my daughter to use as a training "aid" for HER freshman presentation on "How to make a sail boat" ...   )

RE: Engineering Presentation to 5 and 6 year olds

Toothpick bridges,  paper airplanes, card houses. Probably card houses

RE: Engineering Presentation to 5 and 6 year olds

Remember their attention span is about 12 seconds on a good day.  Keep everything moving along quickly, try quick 'oh and ahhhh' demonstrations.  If it is a sunny day, try a parabolic hot dog cooker.   

RE: Engineering Presentation to 5 and 6 year olds

Anything that flies, makes noise or smoke, moves, looks gross, etc.

Rubber band airplane, Estes rocket or better(safer) a water rocket.  Mentos and Coke!!

Look at few Myth Busters...

RE: Engineering Presentation to 5 and 6 year olds

I had to do this once for 4th graders.  I put together some words on what an engineer does, but I started with a folded paper bridge (no tape or fasteners) and every few seconds I would pick up a book and put it on the bridge.  As I finished, the bridge colapsed and books went everywhere.  I left them with "an engineer should have been able to calculate when to stop piling books".  It was a big hit.


RE: Engineering Presentation to 5 and 6 year olds

From a long departed job, I have a small research pressure vessel (ok, fine - it was a liquid propellant rocket combustion chamber), that was operated through an "excursion of input flow rate beyond design limits".  Very neat talking aid, the inconel is laid back like a peeled orange.  That got oohs and aahs, whereas talking about stresses and material strengths leading up to pulling that out of the box was getting drooping eyelids.  Even if you can't bring in stuff that goes bang or makes smoke, bring in the results of it, or pictures of it, or videos.  Even a short video of a bolt being tensioned to failure or a seal popping off in a hydro test can be interesting enough to make what you are talking about interesting.

RE: Engineering Presentation to 5 and 6 year olds

sounds like fun

RE: Engineering Presentation to 5 and 6 year olds

Everyone knows that engineers drive trains.  Take a train set down there and let them play with it and give each of them an engineer's hat.


RE: Engineering Presentation to 5 and 6 year olds

A 6 yearold has zero interest in stresses and deformation.

He/she wants to see something striking and dynamic--flying rockets spaceships, and lots of associated noise.

You're not going to make future engineers, just entertainment at this point.The fireman has it easier.

RE: Engineering Presentation to 5 and 6 year olds

Yeah, this is a tough one and a problem they just don't teach you in engineering classes at university.  The attention span of a six year old is roughly thirty seconds.  So as suggested by this forum commentary, it needs to be dynamic and eye catchy.  Paper airplanes is okay, but really, kindergarden kids won't follow your instructions to fold paper as instructed.

I have often combined "art" with a hands on demonstration were the class can do the activity at once.  Bring some popsickle sticks and glue a bridge together, want to save the wood for the environmentalist movement, then use plastic straws.  I once used a chemistry breaker and small torch to boil water to push a windmill that raised a small weight for a Grade 1 class.  Obviously you do the demonstration, get the kids involved with a discussion on what they think is going on or predict what may happen.  You'd be surprised.

But most importantly, you need to have fun with it!  The kids find "fun" to be contagious.  You may even plan that small seed into their heart that will inspire them some day.  After all, wasn't it that one special teacher that reached through to us and turned us on to mathematics, science and technology?

Kenneth J Hueston, PEng
Sturni-Hueston Engineering Inc
Edmonton, Alberta Canada

RE: Engineering Presentation to 5 and 6 year olds

Have a look at Julius Sumner Miller- although a physicist maybe a few ideas in there for you,


It is a capital mistake to theorise before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts. (Sherlock Holmes - A Scandal in Bohemia.)  

RE: Engineering Presentation to 5 and 6 year olds

Over the years, when people have asked me what I do for a living (as opposed to what I am) I have learned to turn to the wife who immediately answers because she knows how to tell them in non technical, non jargon-ese, non detailed language some basic facts in a way that they will go away satisfied, not that they gain much real knowledge about what I actually do.  But they do get an answer and some basic information that they can understand.

If I answer, (1) the certainly don't know any more than when I started, (2) they look bored, and (3) they are usually looking around or at their watches or mentioning that they hear their mothers calling them.

I suggest you take the question to a school teachers forum, not an engineering tips site and ask those that are schooled in how to deal with 5-6 year olds for hours every day and actually teach them something.

If you can't find such a forum, then start asking around amoung your contacts, social, church, gym, neighborhood, pub, etc for some Elementary School teachers to talk to, and be sure to ask for "Early" Elementary teachers.

The wife's profession is EE (Elementary Education, not Electrical Engineering) and I am amazed when I watch her work with young children.  It is a world entirely different than what I am schooled for and she has skills that I can't touch.

If this assignment were mine, I'd have her heavily involved and I would be listening to what she had to say (which she would say would be a new thing.)


RE: Engineering Presentation to 5 and 6 year olds

Engineers get to play in the dirt. Go to a Cat Equip. dealer. get earthmoving toys. Dig a hole, make a river bed. Have them use the toys to build a dam. Get the hose. Get enough toys for everyone. May have to hit more than one equip. dealer.  

Richard A. Cornelius, P.E.

RE: Engineering Presentation to 5 and 6 year olds

Sorry about that. I'm a CE. We play in dirt.  

Richard A. Cornelius, P.E.

RE: Engineering Presentation to 5 and 6 year olds

Maybe an idea (same kind of above, but with mech. background))
while steel isn't that attractive to small children (due to weight, it isn't "clean", has sharp corners, and welding, machining, isn't practical at school), wood is.

Couldn't you do something using one (or several) of those?
Maybe have them build the highest tower, a bridge with the longest horizontal span, such things?
Perhaps even using wood glue as bonding agent (so they can do something they haven't done before)?


RE: Engineering Presentation to 5 and 6 year olds

It does make you think, doesn't it?

We're all used to explain our ideas/point of view to collegues, dealing with complex situations, solving problems, and so on,
however for talking (let alone communicating in both directions) to 6-year olds, we're with our backs against a wall.

Over 15 replies, and no-one can tell you exactly how to handle this "trivial" assignment.

Best of luck!

RE: Engineering Presentation to 5 and 6 year olds

The schoolchildren forum was mine, and I had it easy with the middle schoolers compared to this.  As has been said, this is entertainment more than education at that age level.  I would find some "engineering" parts and just have a show and tell session, anything that moves or makes noise is even better.

At the end of the day too, don't stress it too much - do any of us remember things we learned in school at 6 years old?

RE: Engineering Presentation to 5 and 6 year olds

One last thing, on the subject of handouts for your presentation.  I too had a couple of people precede me into my son's 5th grade class.  One a pro football player, and he handed out Seahawks footballs after his talk.  The next was a Microsoftie, and he too had some branded toys to give away.  The wife set me up with a brown paper bag full of candies.  My son told me my "handouts" were quite well accepted.

RE: Engineering Presentation to 5 and 6 year olds

I second Twoballcane suggestion.  

I mentor high schoolers in a program called First Robotics which has been very successful at getting kids geared toward science, engineering, and other tech related careers.  They spend the Spring semester building robots to meet a challenge presented to them and then compete all around the U.S. and internationally.

It just so happens they have a similar program for elementary students called First Lego League.

I see the First robotics programs inspire students the same ways NASA did for me when I was growing.

If you're in the states, maybe there's a local team nearby by that would lend you some lego robots?   maybe some videos?  I can ask around too if you're interested.


RE: Engineering Presentation to 5 and 6 year olds

I suggest making something that they can either create their own during class or from home.  The thing that immediately came to mind was to build up a bristle bot real time for them.
I made one with my 3 year old out of a scrub brush, a random motor 2 9V batteries (one was sacrificed for the connector), a random fan with a blade cut off (CPU fan?) and a rubber band.
They sell these for $10 under the brand name Hexbug nanobot
I hope this helps.

Rob Stupplebeen

RE: Engineering Presentation to 5 and 6 year olds

Bring in a large galvanized tub and a bag of sackrete.  Then, in your most pronounced Mafia accent, tell the kids that "We's gonna make some special shoes for someone."  Have the kids pick out their least liked classmate and have that person stand in the tub while the kids pour in the sackcrete and water.  This will be easy for the kids because they know how the mix water and stuff.  Make sure it's a real dry mix that sets up quickly.

Presents for the kids?  Maybe get some little plastic horse heads for then to give to their appropriate friends.


RE: Engineering Presentation to 5 and 6 year olds

Make a catapult and fling water balloons?, pumpkins?

Richard A. Cornelius, P.E.

RE: Engineering Presentation to 5 and 6 year olds

While searching for information about a GE traveling science show I searched using the words:  Wonders of science and technology.  I got a lot of very good hits and especially like the idea finder site for information, like the history of the toaster,  I never thought about sliced bread  being the catalyst for acceptance.




RE: Engineering Presentation to 5 and 6 year olds

Keeping it simple -

A demonstration of the power of levers and pulley systems to attain a mechanical advantage for lifting objects.  

Great educational information for kids who want to be better pranksters.  Worked well for me...

Mike McCann
MMC Engineering
Motto:  KISS
Motivation:  Don't ask

RE: Engineering Presentation to 5 and 6 year olds

msquared48:  great minds think alike.  I did a very popular demo on simple machines for my son's grade 2 class- granted, a little older than 5-6 yr olds, but the same short attention span.  I brought in a stepladder, some pulleys and shackles and rope, a piece of plywood and some dowels, a cable winch, and a long 2x2 and a very heavy weight- 75 pounds of lead in a (sealed) coffee can with an eyebolt set into it.  

First I got the kids to try moving the weight on their own, then we used the lever, the plywood and rollers, the pulleys, and the cable winch.  Lots of chances for the kids to do rather than just watch, and plenty of chance to reinforce the basic ideas of mechanical advantage etc.  I kept reinforcing that knowledge makes you stronger:  look, even little kids can move this big, heavy weight if they know how.  

I then showed a few photos from work of our millwrights using the same basic ideas to move REALLY heavy things.

I didn't even try to get into the difference between science and engineering etc.  It's beyond them at this age.    

RE: Engineering Presentation to 5 and 6 year olds

Following Mike and Molten's suggestions you could finish wih a couple of videos of crane/building/bridge collapses.  Youtube is great for that kind of thing and kids are pretty entertained watching things get distroyed... I then finish up saying that it's engineer's jobs to make sure that doesn't happen.  

My first thought was to build a marshmellow catapult or balista and then set up a target and have all the kids try and hit it but I seem to recall schools no longer being big fans of projectiles in the classroom for some reason... how's a kid gonna have any fun??

As for giving out things our company always sends us with Snafooz (foam cube puzzles) but the candy is a pretty good idea too.  You could do the mentos pop rocket and then pass mentos out after; I'm sure you'd hear about how much "fun" the kids had at lunch with their sodas.

RE: Engineering Presentation to 5 and 6 year olds

Lauran Paine, contibuting editor to Sport Aviaton Magazine [EAA], wrote the following after a presentation to five yr olds:
Hangar Visit
...The teacher said 'put your listening ears on.' The kids held their ear lobes and looked my way... 'See that tall bldg? That's a control tower.' I tuned in ATIS: 'Visibility ten.' A boy called out 'ten.' All numbers called out were repeated by the kids... I held up a cleco and said 'what's this?' No answer. I said 'this is a cleco; say cleco.' 'CLECO.' I joined two pieces of aluminum together with a cleco, and said: 'this is what cleco's do; they hold pieces together. When you go home tell your parents you learned a new word, cleco. When you get a new cat or dog name it cleco.' I gave the teacher a cleco for her desk...
From 'The Flying Life' by Lauran Paine, 2010 Cascade Publshing

Keep it simple, and it will make a memorable impression.

RE: Engineering Presentation to 5 and 6 year olds


Years ago, there was a movie called "To Engineer is Human". The movie basically covered the evolution of the human quest to create ever increasingly elaborate designs (buildings, aircraft, bridges etc.) until something goes wrong.  Then we figure out what went wrong, solve the problem and start the cycle again.  That may not grab their attention, but there is one scene in the movie where a nuclear containment vessel is tested by hitting it broadside with a diesel locomotive at a pretty good speed.  Pieces of the locomotive fly everywhere - the containment vessel won the contest in a dramatic fasion.


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