Future Eco Engineers

Throughout time engineers have found solutions to problems –  inventing and adapting as the human race progressed.    We take for granted the many inventions that are now so much a part of our every day lives, including our methods of transport and communication.  computers, gadgets and appliances.  Having to do without them ranges from being an inconvenience, to the end of the world as we know it .  A flat tyre, a power outage/ cut, the break down of our home and work appliances,  or heaven forbid,  the temporary interruption in our internet, or the risk of such, all  remind us how much we all  depend on them – from the youngest to Oldest members of society.

What is left to be invented?  Speedier travel, space travel?  More consumables, luxury goods, more conveniences?  Some way to promote world peace, basic human rights to basic health, education, safely survival?  Just as before, we still need solutions. We now understand now more than ever that development has consequences and comes at a price. We need engineers are  knowledgeable and ethical, who are able and willing revisit the inventions, methods and  of the past to see tweaked, adapted or resigned, taking into account accurate information about environmental  impact, carbon footprint.   We know that our that our resources are not limitless.

We have mini engineers, more aware of the environment than any other generation, living in our midst – our children, our young people.  Let’s give them every opportunity to develop the skills they will need for the tasks ahead.   Not everyone will become an Eco-Engineer, but the principles apply to helping our children be part of a more eco-friendly future.

How can we encourage our children to express and develop their inner eco- engineer?  As a daughter of an engineer, and mother of at least one future engineer-divergent thinker-risk-taking son, living in an eco-aware household, I would like to share some ideas for home and school.

  • Go outside. Experience the environment.  Feel the awe and wonder of nature – trees, plants, grass, water,  the weather, the sky.   It is free.  It is there, and it is wonderfully entertaining.    If we share our love of the world we live in, children will feel connected to it and want to take care of it.  Outside is such a great place.   Grow and make your own whenever possible. Develop skills.  Gardening, cooking, baking and craft  skills will die out if they are not passed on. These are also fun and rewarding things to do together.
  • Children need to the opportunity to be bored.  They can imagine and create a solution to their boredom.   There are so many passive entertainment opportunities for children today, meaning that there are very few moments of boredom.  They can use these moments to look around, observe, notice, then find resources, and explore them and create solutions to other problems.  Time and space to be bored is a luxury in this busy world, but important none the less.
  • Play is not just recreation for children. It is their job.  They learn through play.   Active play requires imagination and problem solving and is vital to their physical, social and intellectual development.  Which don’t drain resources?  Choose toys that meet eco criterion in production and longevity, or look for second hand/ hand me down toys.  Some toys have more play value than others.  Toys for creating, building, or with multiple uses never seem to get old.  Lego, Meccano, wooden train sets can be used and set up in limited ways.  Toy manufacturers are learning that these need to be accessible to girls and boys and thankfully toys stores are less likely to differentiate toys by gender.  Play with actual toys, or better still, make your own.  Create, express, invent. Toys can be adapted, but be aware of safety.    Most toys have passed stringent safety tests.
  • Limit or remove access to electronic gadgets and entertainment. This generation of children is the first who have had access to such a vast array of iPads, tablets, games consoles and computer technology.  Obviously the creators and developers of these were not raised with access to computerized technology.  Their innovative brains were a product of a more rounded childhood.  Interestingly there is movement in amongst senior management in Silicon Valley to limit or not allow their own children use of these inventions.  Over reliance on electronic games technology also fosters a reliance on eco draining resources.   I feel that just as we wouldn’t take art materials and instruments away from budding artists or musicians, our budding eco engineers should be allowed to develop their computer and technological skills.   We can differentiate between productive computer use and over dependence of mindless games!   We plan to have one day a week with no electronic entertainment and are extending this to one week a month.  I would like to say that my children are grateful for this, but they aren’t yet.  One day maybe they will thank me for this great idea!
  • Problem solving activities – allow children to explore, make mistakes, work, and persevere, whilst learning about motion, consequences cause and effect. Repairing broken toys and items, or adapting them when they get to the end of their useful life to make dens, building bridges, boats or  go karts and then during play,  evaluate,  and if necessary redesign them. When some of our appliance and gadgets have reached the end of their life, before heading off to the recycling center, we give them to our children to take them apart, and explore the materials.
  • Give children a problem solving task if the children don’t find their own – make a bed for a teddy, work out how to carry items from A – B. Science and technology   museums as well as other museums and visitors centers feature lots of hands on activities and materials to promote the understanding of basic scientific principles,  including the properties of materials.    There are clubs and activities children can join in with that follow the eco ideals, and hopefully their school curriculum already involves this important aspect. If there isn’t one – why not start one!
  • Instead of answering the multiple “why“ questions, we can reply with, “Go and find out” or “Why not? Learn to take care of items and repair them. This way we learn to appreciate and reduce the amount of energy and resources that go into making things. Be brave and teach children to use the correct tools.  For example, sharp knives and saws can be safer than blunt ones as they require less force to use, and fewer chances to slip.  We learned this one the hard way!
  • There are some useful everyday  house hold gadgets I am happy to let my children use.   Why should adults have all the fun with the latest state  of the art eco friendly vacuum cleaner, or even the museum piece one on its last legs? If children use the gadgets and appliances in a real setting they are more likely to understand their uses, their shortcomings and develop improvements. I research the gadgets I buy.  I share my research with them, and appreciate their research and  input on major purchases including the eco criteria.    We recently purchased a new mop and bucket which had received 5 star ratings on a customer review website.  It’s amazing.  The mop head spins in the foot pedal operated spinner on the bucket. They love to use this simple eco-friendly invention and give credit to the inventor who has taken an everyday item and improved it.   I try to buy eco, good quality, well-functioning items to, so they see the value of good design.

I have never seen the point of toy vacuum cleaners when a real one can be played with and  actually do a job!   Whilst I am not advocating returning to the days of child labor, children are more than capable of using gadgets with some supervision and basic awareness of safety. My home wiring is safe; my appliances are serviced and checked.  My own little eco engineer was busy doing some vacuuming one Saturday.  After vacuuming the debris from the kitchen floor, including lots dog hair from our black Labrador, he proceeded to vacuum the dog.  Despite the dog enjoying the attention and wagging his tail through the whole process, I asked him not to vacuum the dog.  The following Monday Dyson announced their new pet grooming attachment for their vacuums, to remove the loose hair and fur!  My little future engineer was in line with current developments and the Dyson team of experts.  He had independently figured it out that it would be easier and more productive to vacuum the loose hair and fur at the source before it spread all over the rooms of the house!  I learned my lesson about encouraging his problem solving skills and allowing him to try out his ideas. He has also developed his own way to reduce the amount of water he uses in a bath and no doubt has other solutions in the pipeline!

Many past Inventions were made when available resources seemed limitless and before the environmental impact was a consideration.  Hopefully all future engineers will take eco principles into account when inventing and developing.  There is still much left to discover and technological improvements to be made. Children who are more aware of their environment and have the skills necessary to find the solutions will be prepared to be those engineers.

A word of caution, and empathy.    Parenting future Eco Engineers is not for the feint hearted.  It not easy to be that parent or teacher who allows children  to push boundaries, take risks, make lots of mess, and get dirty whilst  inventing  and creating .  It takes courage to break away from the crowd and allow children to be divergent thinkers and doers.  Other parents might not value or appreciate your approach to parenting.  Seeing a less conventional child with an individual style can make them feel uncomfortable.   Be strong!  It takes patience and a willingness to spend time together – prioritizing developing eco practice and engineering skills.  It also involves allowing our children the time and freedom to puzzle over problems and practice working out solutions.  Accepting lots and lots of mistake and breakages along the way, and acknowledge success. But all in all, it’s a wonderful journey!


If you have an eco-engineer child in your midst, I feel your pain and share your joy.  Good luck.


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