Getting the most out of your Young Engineer Series project box

Embrace the journey.  Grow forward.  Let’s make something awesome!

We know.  This is different and different can be scary.  No instructions?!  Open-ended?  What!

This guide is meant as a general resource to help you approach any Young Engineer Series project box in a way that maximizes your value and helps make a lasting positive impact on your special kid.  For more specific information about each project box, be sure to take a look at the project page!

Basic guiding principles:

  1. Challenge them first then guide them.
  2. The process matters more than a single result.
  3. Guide the process, not the outcome.
  4. Meet them at their level but give them a glimpse of higher adventures.

Principle 1: Challenge first then guide

Challenge them first! Here are some examples of questions you might ask early in a project.

  • Can you figure out a way to make something that can launch that ball?
  • Can you figure out how to make a catapult out of these parts?
  • Can you find a way to put any of those parts together?
  • I know you’ve never done computer-aided design (CAD)—neither have I—but can you figure out how to get started with Fusion 360?

Then guide…

  • Hmm, maybe this video from Chris will help a little.  (show them where they can learn more)
  • Here’s how I learned to use a screwdriver.  (give a demonstration)
  • Hey, nice, you figured out how to put some parts together!  I can’t wait to see what else you come up with! (praise their progress and encourage them to keep going)

Bonus tip: When your kid sees that you don’t know something, it is an awesome opportunity for you to model for them an approach of life-long learning.  Show them you’re excited about the opportunity to find out something new.  If you can’t manage to actually be excited, fake it for their sake!

Principle 2: The process matters more than a single result

It is important to remember that your goal as the parent, teacher, or mentor is long-term.  You’re helping to build your kids’ creative confidence and other real life-long skills.  It’s okay if they make a terrible catapult—that doesn’t matter.  What matters is that you praise their effort, recognize their little wins, and encourage them to persevere.  A bad catapult is more than no catapult at all.  It is a new starting point.  How can they make it better?  Your kids will have their little successes and plenty of failures.  The goal with this type of project isn’t to build a perfect catapult or even a functioning catapult.  (My 5-year-old son built a “laser ax” and a dozen other things before his first catapult…all awesome steps!)  The goal is to guide them through this pattern:

  1. I want to do that but I don’t know how.
  2. I can learn, try, solve, research, practice, create, and persevere…failure doesn’t happen until I give up.
  3. I couldn’t do that before, but now I can—look what I accomplished because I kept at it!


Consider this.  Your kid will be finding new mountains to climb for their whole life.  You can put them on any mountain you want, but what happens when they have a new mountain to climb?  This is the essential, bottom-line, ya-gotta-get-this-one-thing-right, critical point:  Instead of towing them up the mountain, teach them to climb.

Principle 3: Guide the process, not the outcome

Encourage them to think about what they want to accomplish and how they might be able to get it done.  To guide their activity without telling them exactly what to do, give them a challenge or contest.  This gives you the structure you need while still allowing them to practice setting their own goals.  Of course, they may not know where to start at first.  This is to be expected, especially if they’re used to following specific step-by-step directions!

Some kids will say things like, “Can you show me how to make it, I don’t know how.”  Rather than showing them how (guiding an outcome), guide their approach.  In this example you might respond with, “It’s okay that you don’t know how.  That happens to me sometimes, too! When I don’t know how to do something that I want to do, sometimes I have to figure it out by…”  Help them see how they might solve the problem if they didn’t have a teacher, parent, or mentor there to show them.

What are their ideas?  What do they not know?  How could they find out?  (Research, experiment, test, ask, etc.)

You can also be an example for them.  When your kid sees that you don’t know something, it is an awesome opportunity for you to model for them an approach of life-long learning.  Show them you’re excited about the opportunity to find out something new.  If you can’t manage to actually be excited, fake it for their sake!

When it comes to building their ideas, try a simple design process.  Here are some examples of age-appropriate design processes:

  • 5-year-olds: Imagine, build, play, repeat
  • 9-year-olds: Imagine, consider alternative ideas, sketch or CAD, build, test, repeat
  • 12 and up: Define Goal, Research, Ideate, CAD, Prototype, Build, Evaluate, repeat

There are many design processes out there.  Some of them even claim to be “the” engineering design process.  (Which I think is just silly—no offense to any design process authors out there.)  Any design process is a starting point.  It can be improved or adapted.  The important thing is to get kids thinking and practicing the process of creating something new.

Principle 4: Meet them at their level but give them a glimpse of higher adventures

They’re on a journey.  Seeing the possibilities ahead gives context to your kid’s learning journey.  It gives them something to strive for—something real that they can see.

It’s good to get excited about what’s ahead.  They might be 5 years old and CAD might be too advanced for them.  But just a little awareness from seeing that real people are coming up with ideas, modeling them with CAD, and turning them into real products can open young kids up to the possibility that someday they can turn their imagination into reality, too!  This is one of the real strengths of the Young Engineer Series—younger students can see first-hand some of the fun possibilities ahead, while still being able to experience success at their level!  Older students always have higher levels to strive for…are they ready to help design the next project?

7 More things you can do to get more out of your Young Engineer Series subscription

Join the facebook group

The Young Engineer Series Facebook Group is new but we hope to make it more active and fun as we all share our Young Engineer Series trials and triumphs! Find it here:

Get involved with CAD

Request to be invited into the Young Engineer Series project in Fusion 360!  Just email and let us know which email address you are using (or plan to use) with Fusion 360.  Easy!

Watch for email updates

We send out periodic emails with information and updates about your Young Engineer Series subscription.  If you miss the emails, don’t worry, just check the project page for updates or feel free to ask for help!

Participate in challenges

Participate in the challenges, it’s fun and you can earn recognition and awards!  (Recognition for this type of achievement can go a long way for admissions boards or job interviews!)

Share your feedback!

We have lots of plans to improve, but we’re always looking for more ideas!  You won’t hurt our feelings, go ahead, tell us how we can get better!

Watch live sessions

Watch for the live sessions and participate!  We’ll start live video sessions after we move into our new studio and workshop space.  (Construction is in progress!!)

Share your ideas!

We’ll have at least one brainstorming session for each project box.  A great way for your kids to feel more excited about the project box when it shows up is to have them participate in the idea sessions at the early stages of the design!  For your older kids, encourage them to get involved with the CAD in Fusion 360!  It is free to join in and you’ll be amazed at how quickly they start picking it up once they start!