Little Engineers! Three Tips to Get Them Building

Julie Pippert
December 28, 2011

All this week, we are taking a look at some of our favorite articles from the past year. This one originally ran in April 2011. Enjoy!  

My two girls are builders, engineers, mechanics, architects... How about your kids?

In my experience kids love to figure out ways to put things together and make new, fun things. This is a great natural skill and also a great developmental activity for your little ones. Building crafts helps problem solving skills, idea formulation and execution, motor skills, eye-hand coordination, ability to follow step-by-step instructions, and best of all, a sense of self-esteem and accomplishment. How beautiful is it to hear a little voice call out, "Look what I made!" even if it includes a mess behind it?

It's important to let kids do as much of the craft as possible on their own, with your helpful guidance and supervision. Here are a few ideas for fun (and often cheap or even free!) things you can do to help develop this wonderful sense and skill:

1. Check out local craft and home improvement stores for activities.

On weekends in my town, Lowe's and Michael's offer regular craft activities, usually divided and identified for age-groups. At Lowe's, my kids got aprons with their names on it and their favorite activity was building a birdhouse. Older kids got to paint too, but the younger ones attention span (including my own kids) was finished after following the simple steps to assemble the kit-based birdhouse. The neatest thing for us as parents was seeing how we could find simple pieces in the store to use for young kid safe crafts. At Michael's the kids got to create beaded bracelets. These stores often do special activities near Mother's Day, and it's a great thing for kids and dads or special friends to do together to make something special for mom.

2.  Build something that goes or does.Design Squad Nation at

Building something is fun, but building something with a purpose, especially if that purpose is fun, is even better. We love to raid the recycle bin to find what we need for crafts. One of our favorite projects was the bottle boat. It was very simple:

a. Using a recycled water bottle, I cut out a bit to make it somewhat like a canoe.

b. The kids used their paints to paint the inside. We used some paper and a rounded toothpick to create a flag. We took a broken crayon, added some string for hair, and some cloth pieces for clothes to make a passenger.

c. We set sail in the sink! 

We also like to use toys to create new games. For example, using a large Duplo piece and a paint stirrer to make a seesaw. I've also helped the kids draw a picture and tell a story of a machine they wish they had. Or perhaps you could try PBS Kids new Design Squad game and build a "Fidget" like the one pictured above. This machine is a magic one.  Its creator said, "I wish I had a magic chalkboard wall that I could just SWIPE! erase and POW! paint a new color!" Cool, right?

3. Find your favorite resource for ongoing ideas.

We like PBS Kids Sprout for great craft ideas. But our favorite is right here at Savvy, which has a wonderful resource of crafts you can make with common household items that are all vetted and perfect for our young children!

If you set the example for creative thinking and creating, your children will see potential all around them, which is an amazing life skill. Have fun building! 


From the Parents

  • Parent # 1

    Thank you for an interesting article. Could you please check the links in the second paragraph from the end? They both go to PBS kids

    over a year ago


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