Sep 13, 2011

One small step...

In Memory of the Anniversary of Dad's Birth
Let's make it very clear. I loved my father very much, but I suspect we never really understood each other. Take, for example, his desire to get me hooked on science and engineering. He once said, “You should love doing it so much, you don't even have time to go to the bathroom!” I responded that was just silly. Soiling one's pants did not show passion just bad judgment in prioritizing necessary business.

I think he wished that I, like the son of a colleague, would wire up my room with alarm systems and booby traps for the prying parent (like himself!). He even tried to enroll me in the local science museum's Saturday classes. I tried. I hated getting up Saturday morning, driving (I got car sick easily), and being with a bunch of people who I didn't know, wouldn't talk with me, and doing things which were way simpler than the Heathkits we had at home.

He probably passed from this earth believing his daughter just didn't have the passion around things technical because he didn't see in her what he saw in himself. This blog obviously shows that the passion exists, so I hope he's looking back at me a bit happier.

I mention this because sometimes parents use the wrong metrics and the wrong venues for their children. The transition from children's interest to “typical engineering activities” is far from standard. In fact, looking back, my willingness to learn more about engineering and technology came from my desire to spent time with him. Dad had far better success in getting me to do electronics by inviting me downstairs to solder the next bit of the Heathkit Hero robot with him rather than giving me a kit of electronic parts and components. I actually got myself out of bed on a Sunday morning to learn assembly language programming because it was time to be with him. I even tried to learn Morse code because I loved the delicious mischievous smile he had whenever we sent secret messages to each other.

Recently, my friend was dismayed that her daughter was not “taking” to the latest engineering activities she received for Christmas. She expected her daughter to spend hours working on them on her own, much like her own engineering brother did when he was young. Success with her daughter, I informed her, would not look like success with her brother. And the activities might look slightly different. As a typical girl (pink feathers, jewelry, and posing for fashion shots were what got her excited), she would need to enter the engineering world through a different door.

To account for her need to be social, we got her Zoob – the game to play with others and to develop her 2-d to 3-d spatial skills. We also got her a marble run kit to make roller coasters while giving her an instinct about slopes, gravity, and potential and kinetic energy that science and math teachers could tap into in the future. For another friend, I suggested Flexeez and her daughter promptly made herself a dress out of the materials while getting a feel for shapes and structural requirements of an organically shaped design.

You will be the most successful if you start with where your child's interests naturally fall. Many roads lead to skills required for engineering, so you can be more focused in how you guide them in their journey. These possible first steps implement the guidelines in my book, Engineering for the Uninitiated.

>> See more ways to help your child take the first step into building engineering skills
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