Fun and Easy Ways to Connect Engineering with Literacy

Engineering is a way of doing.  It is about learning to solve problems, using various materials, designing, creating, and constructing things that work. Listed below are books and hands-on activities that will connect engineering with literature and help teach children how to solve problems.

Freight Train by Donald Crews

This story shows a freight train and describes the different colors of each part of the train throughout the pages. Next, it describes the train going through tunnels, across bridges, and moving in darkness and daylight. Then all of a sudden, the train is gone.

Offer children the opportunity to explore trains and compare the different kinds.  Let the children create their own trains, then decorate with the vibrant colors of the rainbow shown in the book.

Children should be given the three primary colors – red, yellow and blue and can explore which colors need to be mixed together to make the secondary colors-orange, green and purple.


The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper

This story is about a train filled with toys and gifts for little boys and girls that breaks down before reaching the children. After asking several passing trains for help over the hill, a little blue train agrees to help the stranded toys. Even though she is small, the blue train tries her best to bring the toys to the children on the other side of the hill.

This classic can be the catalyst for lots of STEM extended learning opportunities.  If a train set is available, children can construct a train, then test how many manipulatives it can carry.

Or, if a train set isn’t available, children can also construct a simple bridge using two plastic cups as bases and lay a piece of  paper as the bridge.  Test its strength by placing manipulatives on it.  Children can also explore different designs. Hint:  Folding the paper lengthwise like a fan helps disperse the weight of the book(s).


Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton

Mike and his trusty steam shovel, Mary Anne, dig deep canals for boats to travel through, cut mountain passes for trains and hollow out cellars for city skyscrapers. But with progress come new machines and soon the inseparable duo are out of work so Mike Mulligan and Mary Anne travel to the small town of Popperville and accept one final challenge — to dig the town cellar in just one day.

Children can try excavating in a sandbox using their own steam shovel constructed with a variety of recyclables.  Offer various plastic cups, masking tape, empty toilet paper rolls, foil, etc.


Smash!  Crash!  By Jon Scieszka

The book introduces two best friends, a bright red flatbed named Jack Truck and his blue buddy Dump Truck Dan, who are a couple of young deconstructionists.  The two trucks meet various friends in Trucktown and keep right on crashing even when they’re asked not to. They’re pursued by an ominous shadow and a booming voice that consequently turns the action movie into a suspense thriller.

Explore the various jobs of different trucks by providing toy trucks for children to use.


Kristian Cannizzo, Education Coordinator, is responsible for The Children’s Museum’s educational enrichment and outreach program – Science On The Go!  She also designs and teaches STEM programs, babysitting classes and other programs for young learners at the Museum. Krissy has a Bachelor’s of Science in Child Study with a concentration in Family Studies from the University of New Hampshire and over fifteen years of experience working with children as an educator and child care director locally and nationally for the CWLA in Washington, DC.  She is the mother of two active young boys.


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