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Program introduces families with preschool kids to problem-solving design

COURTESY PHOTO: HEAD START - This family tries out some bubble engineering as part of the Head Start on Engineering program. A Head Start engineering program aimed at the smallest scholars and their families is getting a boost locally with a grant from the National Science Foundation.

Mt. Hood Community College Head Start, which serves all of East Multnomah County outside of Portland Public Schools, has offered Head Start on Engineering for several years, but was not funded last year and the program ran on volunteer power.

"The goal is to show families we do engineering every day. We just don't know we're doing it," said Cynthia Smith, associate director of Head Start and Early Head Start for the MHCC organization.

This year MHCC Head Start on Engineering expects an NSF grant of $1.875 million to fund teacher training, workshops for parents, curriculum, home visits and take-home activity kits for families. There's also a trip to OMSI for participants.

Head Start on Engineering is offered to families and children ages 3 to 5 in the six classrooms at Head Start's Sunrise Center Apartments location at 192nd Avenue and Stark Street.

"It's not just in the classroom, the primary focus is on families," Smith said.

One aspect of the program is the engineering kits that are sent home with families. The kits include a book and a hands-on engineering project tied to the theme of the book.

One kit features the book "Oh No! A Fox!" by Janet Morgan Stoeke. The kit includes foam blocks.

Families are encouraged to read and talk about the book. Prompt questions are included to get a discussion going. Then, families are asked to build a structure so they then can protect her eggs from the fox. Then the kits asks questions such as "What if the fox was twice as tall?" and asks families to build a higher structure.

National Science Teaching Association materials say children from low socioeconomic backgrounds and traditionally underserved and under-resourced communities face "significant barriers to engaging with engineering and science."

"Supporting learning and interest development in early childhood, and engaging families, preschools and community stakeholders in this process is a powerful way to address these issues and a critical economic investment to ensure children become productive members of their communities," the science teacher's group said.

Head Start on Engineering is a partnership including TERC, a nonprofit oreganizaiton promoting math and science education, Mt. Hood Community College Head Start, OMSI, University of Notre Dame and MHCC East Metro STEAM Partnership.

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