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Budding Engineers


Tuesday 05 March 2019

It’s Monday again, and as usual the weekend has flown. As you wait for the children to arrive you do a quick visual check around the room. The table in the home corner is set invitingly for four, complete with tablecloth, a small vase of flowers and empty plates. As you wonder what exotic dishes might be created there today, you add the empty shopping bags, the post-it and pencils and an old set of car keys to the area. The addition of these props is based on your observations of play the previous week when you noticed a lot of imaginary trips to the shops. These simple additions are provocations which will support richer play and feed the imagination of the children who choose to play there this morning.

You may already have an inkling who will respond to these provocations; which children will choose to play there or perhaps the children will surprise you again! It may begin with one child who is always drawn to the home corner or perhaps the new props will spark an interest in children who don’t normally play there. Either way there will be at least one child who will make a bee-line there - but it’s no fun on your own. So, whether someone chooses to join that child or whether other children are invited or even persuaded to join in the game, it won’t be long before a number of children gather there. This is when rich communication and important negotiations begin - identifying the play script, brainstorming who gets to be who (Mum, Dad, big sister, brother or indeed the baby). Some tough decision-making may ensue as children make a case for their preferred roles and the props they absolutely must have. Once solutions have been agreed, the children can then begin to test them out as they immerse themselves in their roles. Then, as play develops and the imagination flows, the new props are discovered, or as new players join the group, the original agreed solution may well shift and alter, necessitating more communication, discussion and agreement as shared understanding produces a new solution directing the play script to everyone’s satisfaction.

The sociodramatic play described above is typical of play in many early learning and care settings around the country. The process described is also the very same process used in engineering design - have a look at the drawing here:

We may typically associate engineering with the construction corner or with other more obvious materials in the playroom. Moreover, we know play affords children the opportunity to act out what they know. Children come into our settings with rich knowledge of family roles, mealtimes, caring for babies and shopping (amongst other things). Then, because of diverse family structures, values and beliefs, sociodramatic play offers children the opportunity to get to know about the other. Other ways of being and doing, like for instance that bolognese sauce can be made with fresh ingredients as well as buying it in a jar.

It is wonderful to be reminded of the invaluable contribution you make to children’s learning and development simply by giving them time, space and materials to just play “mammies and daddies” - while at the same time nurturing skills and dispositions necessary for life in the 21st century.



Lilian originally begin working in childcare as a homebased sessional playgroup practitioner before joining Early Childhood Ireland’s predecessor as a quality officer in 2001. She has a degree in Early Years Education and Care, is qualified in adult and further education and is also a Marte Meo colleague trainer. Lilian is passionate about young children’s right to rich play experiences and nurturing relationships.


If you would like to learn more about how children explore engineering concepts through play, please read our Builders of the Future blog post from last year. 


Engineers Week brings the fascinating world of engineering to life in communities nationwide, inspiring children and adults to engineer the Ireland of tomorrow. Engineers Week is co coordinated by Engineers Ireland and proudly supported by SFI and Industry leaders ESB, TII, Intel and ARUP.
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