The Importance of Developing Engineering Habits of Mind in Early Engineering Education

  • Beth Dykstra Van MeeterenEmail author
Part of the Early Mathematics Learning and Development book series (EMLD)


Engineering education in early childhood (preschool through second grade) is a new emphasis in preK-12 education. Many endeavors to introduce engineering to young children use an approach of providing teachers engineering curriculum with prepared lessons or lesson suggestions. An alternative approach is to examine the current educational settings of preschool through second grade to discern existing contexts and activities where engineering is a natural fit. In this chapter, the author invites the reader to examine the high-quality early childhood educational setting and ponder its untapped potential to develop children’s engineering habits of mind and the subsequent advantages for children’s development.


  1. Bellanca, J. A. (Ed.). (2010). 21st century skills: Rethinking how students learn. Bloomington: Solution Tree Press.Google Scholar
  2. Blair, C., & Razza, R. P. (2007). Relating effortful control, executive function, and false belief understanding to emerging math and literacy ability in kindergarten. Child Development, 78(2), 647–663.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Brewster, M. (2004). Frank Lloyd Wright: America’s architect. Business Week (The McGraw-Hill Companies).Google Scholar
  4. Brophy, S., & Evangelou, D. (2007). Precursors to engineering thinking. Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the American Society of Engineering Education, Honolulu, HI.Google Scholar
  5. Brosnan, M. J. (1998). Spatial ability in children’s play with Lego blocks. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 87, 19–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Caldera, Y. M., Mc Culp, A., O’Brien, M., Truglio, R. T., Alvarez, M., & Huston, A. C. (1999). Children’s play preferences, construction play with blocks, and visual-spatial skills: Are they related? International Journal of Behavioral Development, 23(4), 855–872.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Casey, B. M., Andrews, N., Schindler, H., Kersh, J. E., Samper, A., & Copley, J. (2008). The development of spatial skills through interventions involving block building activities. Cognition and Instruction, 26(3), 269–309.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Council, T. A. (2009). Engineering in K-12 education: Understanding the status and improving the prospects. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.Google Scholar
  9. Counsell, S., Escalada, L., Geiken, R., Sander, M., Uhlenberg, J., VanMeeteren, B., …, Zan, B. (2016). STEM learning with young children: Inquiry teaching with ramps and pathways. New York: Teachers College Press.Google Scholar
  10. De Vries, R., & Sales, C. (2011). Ramps & pathways: A constructivist approach to physics with young children. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.Google Scholar
  11. Diamond, A., & Lee, K. (2011). Interventions shown to aid executive function development in children 4–12 years old. Science, 333(6045), 959–964.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Gathercole, S. E., Pickering, S. J., Knight, C., & Stegmann, Z. (2004). Working memory skills and educational attainment: Evidence from national curriculum assessments at 7 and 14 years of age. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 18(1), 1–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Hanline, M. F., Milton, S., & Phelps, P. C. (2010). The relationship between preschool block play and reading and math abilities in early elementary school: A longitudinal study of children with and without disabilities. Early Child Development and Care, 180(8), 1005–1017.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Kamii, C., Miyakawa, Y., & Kato, Y. (2004). The development of logico-mathematical knowledge in a block-building activity at ages 1–4. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 19, 44–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Kersh, J. E., Casey, B., & Young, J. M. (2008). Research on spatial skills and block building in girls and boys: The relationship to later mathematics learning (Chap. 10). In: O. Saracho & B. Spodek (Eds.), Contemporary perspectives on mathematics in early childhood education (pp. 233–250). Charlotte, NC: Information Age.Google Scholar
  16. Martin, F. (2008). Basic manual. In S. Turkle (Ed.), Falling for science (pp. 268–271). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  17. Miyake, A., Friedman, N. P., Emerson, M. J., Witzki, A. H., Howerter, A., & Wager, T. D. (2000). The unity and diversity of executive functions and their contributions to complex “frontal lobe” tasks: A latent variable analysis. Cognitive Psychology, 41(1), 49–100.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, & Council of Chief State School Officers (NGAC, & CCSSO). (2010). Common core state standards. Washington, DC: NGAC and CCSSO.Google Scholar
  19. NGSS Lead States. (2013). Next generation science standards: For states, by states. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.Google Scholar
  20. Papert, S. (1980). Mindstorms: Children, computers, and powerful ideas. New York: Basic Books, Inc.Google Scholar
  21. Papert, S. (2008). Objects in mind: Gears. In S. Turkle (Ed.), Falling for science (pp. 268–271). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  22. Petersen, L., & Levine, S. (2014). Early block play predicts conceptual understanding of geometry and mathematical equivalence in elementary school. SILC Showcase (September).
  23. Petroski, H. (2003). Early education. American Scientist, 91(3), 206–209.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Rutherford, F. J., & Ahlgren, A. (1991). Science for all Americans. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Turkle, S. (2008). Falling for science: Objects in mind. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  26. Van Meeteren, B. (2013). Designing elementary engineering education from the perspective of the child. Cedar Falls, IA: University of Northern Iowa.Google Scholar
  27. Van Meeteren, B. (2016). Ramps and pathways and STEM + literacy. STEM learning with young children: Inquiry teaching with ramps and pathways (pp. 110–135). New York: Teachers College Press.Google Scholar
  28. Van Meeteren, B., & Zan, B. (2010). Revealing the work of young engineers in early childhood education. Early Childhood Research and Practice, 12(2), “Beyond this issue”.Google Scholar
  29. Wellhousen, K., & Kieff, J. E. (2001). A constructivist approach to block play in early childhood. Boston: Cengage Learning.Google Scholar
  30. Wright, F. L. (1943). Frank Lloyd Wright: An autobiography. San Francisco, CA: Pomegranate.Google Scholar
  31. Wolfgang, C. H., Stannard, L. L., & Jones, I. (2001). Block play performance among preschoolers as a predictor of later school achievement in mathematics. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 15, 173–180.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Iowa Regents’ Center for Early Developmental Education, College of EducationUniversity of Northern IowaCedar FallsUSA

Personalised recommendations