Children are never too young to be inspired by engineering

From their earliest experiences with toys, toddlers like to grab and hold, eventually learning to take things apart and put them back together.

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These simple steps can be seen as their first exploration into the world of engineering as children develop an interest in how things work. All that’s needed next is to notice this interest and to nurture it.

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At the Rochester Bridge Trust, we’re keen to encourage children to take an interest in engineering from the earliest opportunity. The sooner their imaginations are captured, the more likely they are to embrace the subject and develop the necessary skills to become civil engineers, in particular the bridge builders of tomorrow. In addition to providing free education resources, one of the many ways we do this is to take part in and host events that enable young people of all ages to gain hands-on experience of bridge building.

This ranges from hosting bridge building challenge events to manning stands at community STEM days.

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For the bridge building challenges, groups of children (and occasionally adults) are given a limited selection of materials from which to build a bridge, which is then tested for strength. The problem-solving nature of this challenge appeals to all ages, and varying difficulty levels mean it’s as interesting to primary school children as it is to young adults in college.

Community events tend to be much more informal, with a wider range of children and adults dropping in at random. For these, tasks include putting into action the principles behind a number of different bridge types, including cantilever and truss. Despite the randomness of visitors at these events – or even because of it – they can be a huge success as youngsters who wouldn’t necessarily have signed up for bridge building realise how much fun it can be.

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Anyone aged three to 18 and beyond can be found at such events, where they are drawn to the colourful appeal of K’Nex kits and the challenge of creating their own bridge. It’s a fun way to get children thinking as they develop their bridge designs to make their creations stronger – we often find youngsters stay on to adapt their constructions once they’ve discovered how the bridge failed during the first round of weight bearing tests.

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The other thing that’s so positive is that these events are for everyone and the boy/girl stereotyping of STEM subjects can be prevented. The activities take place outside the classroom and in the real world, where children just want to get involved.

At the Rochester Bridge Trust we are keen to support this open-minded, youthful approach to inspiring the civil engineers of tomorrow, but as a small team it’s impossible for us to get to every education event or after school club. Instead we offer a range of free resources to enable everyone to have access to bridge building. This includes a large arch bridge kit, smaller arch kits, K’Nex, bases for bridge building, a selection of quizzes and – most important of all – our book of lesson plans Learning about Bridges. Our mascot Langdon the Lion may even be able to put in an appearance.

To find out more and make use of our free education resources, contact Education Officer Aileen White.

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