My very active toddler (age 3) and pre-kinder (age 4) learned about gravity, force, and motion today with big brother who is in first grade (age 7).
This was accomplished with some pieces of track, a small ball, and a drop shoot (we used a toy with a hole to drop the ball through).
We have had this Fisher Price toy around for 11 years and it has always been a favorite toy at our house. The original ball looked like a rock, and we lost that years ago. It was supposed to land in a small truck that backed up to the toy. But we have found lots of other uses with other objects over the years, including cars, dominos, marbles, small animals, other objects, and various balls.
There are three drop holes and each is a little different. One causes the ball to zig zag back and forth as it drops lower on a ramp. One has a bucket flapper that slows it down before it drops into a holding bin below, and one has a tunnel slide and shoots the ball out front of the toy.
Generating a hypothesis:
What do you think would happen if you drop the ball through the hole?
What do you think would happen if you push the ball up through the bottom hole?
What would happen if you dropped a domino through the hole?
The kids repeated this over and over. They placed the track under the opening to catch the dropped ball and guide its direction as the force of gravity propelled it. Eventually the ball rolls with its own momentum and finally comes to a stop. It rolls because it is round. The round shape allows it the ball to make very little surface contact when it touches the track, and this reduces friction. The force of friction and the pull of gravity toward the ground is what eventually causes the ball to stop.
Why does the ball fall down?
Why does the ball roll?
How far does the ball roll?
Why did the ball roll down the track?
Did the ball keep going or did it stop?
Why does the ball eventually come to a stop?
Why didn’t the domino roll down the track?
What is gravity?
What is friction?
Further the Learning:
Learn about gravity, mass, and weight.
Falling Gravity Lesson Plans
Gravity Lesson Plans
Gravity Word Search
Isaac Newton Gravity Coloring Page
Jack and Jill Fall Down The Hill Coloring Page
Online Gravity Game at Primary Games
Gravity Guy Game at Primary Games
The kids can do this activity as free play, or as a guided science experiment. They can change their track to make a curve, or build additional height drops for the track. We put the toy up on a box, then put a track to the toy, then angled it down to another track. This incline angle causes the ball to roll faster down the track. There are lots of other creative variations you can use. Instead of using a toy as a shoot, try using a paper towel tube, a plastic cup with a hole, or a box with a hole cut in it instead. It is also fun to put a cup, bell, or a bulls eye, at the end of the track.
In addition to children learning about science, engineering, and physics with this play, they also practice problem solving, eye hand coordination, gross and fine motor skills, and relationship skills by working together.
I love watching the children learn through play!
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