Your playground is the perfect setting for children to experiment with physical science (gravity, momentum, balance) and motion machines such as the inclined plane, fulcrum, wheels, and pendulums!

The Swings: Pendulums

Pendulums are objects that move freely when suspended from a support just like your swings. To make the motion more visual, place a bag of flour, cornmeal, or sand on the swing, poke a small hole in it, and then set the swing gently in motion. Children will be able to see the "trail" of the motion left by the leaking powder Pose open-ended questions such as: "What do you think would happen if we shortened or lengthened the rope/chains holding the swing? What would happen if more than one child could sit on the swing?"

The Slide: An Inclined Plane

An inclined plane is a sloped surface used to move objects. On a slide, the objects that are moving are the children themselves! Bring out a variety of objects children can use to experiment with the effects of gravity, weight, size, and surface. Invite children to predict which items will go down quickly, which items will go down more slowly, and why Together, test and record your results.

Trikes and Wagons: Wheels

Wheels are tools which (when moved) can provide energy, facilitate movement, and/or determine direction. Through experiments with wheeled toys, children can learn about momentum (an object when set in motion will continue until stopped) and inertia (an object at rest will remain at rest unless disturbed by an external force).

Stand back and watch as children discover that they are the external forces that start and stop the wheeled toys' motion! Invite children to try starting and stopping objects in motion from different areas of the playground. Encourage them to predict how far something will roll, even how fast. Change a variable, such as the slope or the size of the wheeled toys. What do you observe?

The See-Saw: Lever and Fulcrum

A fever is a shaft placed on a fulcrum, or base, that can be used to balance objects. As children attempt to balance their bodies on the seesaw, they experience the effects that balance, weight, and gravity have on motion. Ask children what may happen when one person moves closer to the center. How many children are needed to balance with the teacher on one side? Invite children to experiment by placing boxes holding a variety of objects on each end.

Of course, while you are outside, don't forget to notice motion in the natural world. Watch the trees blow in the wind, the movement of an ant carrying food to its hill, a bird's almost effortless glide on an air current, and the pendulum of a spider hanging off its web. See how many examples of natural motion children can find.