Our guide to 6th grade civil engineering will help your child fully appreciate the wonders of the manmade world.

As with our other guides, we are not sponsored by any of the external products we recommend or the companies that produce them.

What is Civil Engineering and Why is it Important?

Civil engineering is a big category.  In its broadest definition, it can encompass nearly any sort of engineering that is intended to promote the well-being of humanity.  More commonly, the term is applied to the infrastructure that directly supports towns and cities – this includes sewers, transportation systems, power grids, waterways, and buildings.

One of the tragedies of modern life is that we regularly drive past incredible feats of engineering that are essential to our quality of life, but often without any real understanding or appreciation.  Students who follow our curriculum will be enriched by learning a little bit of the engineering that keeps the lights on and the toilets flushing.  They’ll also hone their logic and problem-solving skills by tackling challenging questions about traffic flow, emergency services, zoning demand, and more.

Children who are especially attracted to civil engineering will find that it can make a great career. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the field has a median pay of around $89,940 a year, with steady growth in job availability.

We recommend two tools for teaching civil engineering:

  1. The book Engineering in Plain Sight.
  2. The Cities: Skylines video game.

Engineering in Plain Sight

Engineering In Plain Sight: An Illustrated Field Guide to the Constructed Environment by Grady Hillhouse is a wonderful beginner’s guide to all the vast subdisciplines within civil engineering.  As the title suggests, the book is essentially the civil engineering equivalent of a wildlife field guide.  There are engaging sections on a wide range of engineering structures children are likely to see near their own homes, including bridges, power substations, dams, communication towers, interchanges, and dozens more.  The book is not made for children per se, but is a fun read that is written at a perfect level to keep middle schoolers interested.

The book’s author, Grady Hillhouse, is a licensed civil engineer with an excellent YouTube channel, Practical Engineering, that covers a huge number of engineering topics in detail.  The YouTube channel generally discusses engineering at a deeper, more challenging level of difficulty than Engineering in Plain Sight, so we don’t recommend it for 6th grade.  Nonetheless, students who are excited at the prospect of more civil engineering can certainly continue their studies with Practical Engineering videos.

At the time of writing, the book is available for $24.10 on Amazon (not an affiliate link).

Cities: Skylines

Players will develop an increasingly complex city as they play the game.

In Cities: Skylines, players are challenged with designing and running their own cities from the ground up.  They’re tasked with managing the many different systems required for a city to operate smoothly: power generation, waste disposal, water distribution, roads, mass transportation, emergency services, tax rates, recreation, and more.  Nothing will make your child feel like a real civil engineer quite like solving traffic jams and landfill overcrowding.

Cities: Skylines is a complex game, but at this grade level, students should be able to get started with it largely on their own.  There are plenty of in-depth tutorials available on YouTube, in case they do need help with something.  Cities: Skylines is a highly open-ended game that doesn’t give players many specific tasks to complete, and they can freely develop their cities however they want.  For the purpose of this curriculum, students should grow their cities large enough to reach the “Grand City” milestone.

Figuring out how to keep traffic moving is a big part of the game.

The game is currently priced at $29.99 on Steam. If you aren’t familiar with using Steam to purchase games, we strongly recommend that you read our parent’s guide to using Steam. It has an excessive amount of small DLC (that is, extra content) available for purchase.  Fortunately, you don’t need any of it for the purpose of this curriculum.  If your child does take a strong interest in the game, you might want to consider purchasing a few DLC’s when they are on sale.  Of the DLC’s that are available, Mass Transit is likely to add the most to your child’s educational experience.

Finally, here’s a friendly tip for your young civil engineer: never place the water pumps that supply your city’s drinking water directly downstream from your sewage drain pipes.

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