Gears, levers and wheels help get work done by making things move, and they fascinate youngsters, too. You and your preschooler can take a second look at the tools that make our lives easier with engaging activities that explore the mechanics of simple machines. Your child will come away with a fresh appreciation for common objects, in addition to new problem-solving and science skills.
Simple Machine Review
Don't be embarrassed if you need a refresher before teaching your preschooler about simple machines. A gear is a rotating piece that has teeth or cogs that mesh with another toothed part to create force or movement. A lever is a simple machine that consists of a rigid rod or board that moves via a hinge or fulcrum, which is the pivoting point. An example is a seesaw – the part your child sits on is the rod and the triangular base is the fulcrum. Combine a wheel with an axle and you have a simple machine that helps move heavy objects easily.
What child doesn’t like to fling things across the room? A catapult is just a lever propped up by a fulcrum, and a homemade catapult can teach your preschooler about simple machines while appealing to his sense of adventure. Secure a plastic spoon to a wooden ruler or jumbo Popsicle stick. Lay this crosswise over a spool of thread or a thick marker, and attach it with plastic bands. Use a pompom as your load by placing it in the bowl of the spoon. Help your child apply force to the end of the spoon to send the pompom flying. Discuss how the pompom flies a shorter or longer distance depending on how much force your child applies and where the pivot point is in relation to the lever. For an easy game, create targets on the ground or table using tape.
Wheels and Gears
Your child has probably been singing “The Wheels On The Bus” for as long as he can remember. Expand his horizons by going on a wheel and gear hunt throughout your house. Look for items with visible gears, such as music boxes and clocks, and point out wheels on toy vehicles, wagons and cars. Help your preschooler draw a picture of a vehicle and glue on wheel-shaped pasta for the wheels. Or, create a collage by clipping wheel pictures out of magazines. Popular building bricks come in simple machine kits that include gears; wheels and axles; and levers and pulleys. As your future engineer puts the project together, he won’t know that he is learning about design while using skills like reasoning, predicting and critical thinking.
Books and Online Games
As you snuggle in to enjoy a book with your preschooler, extend your daytime learning with books that explore simple machines. “Big Wheels” by Anne Rockwell shows preschoolers how big wheels get tough jobs done. “What is a Wheel and Axle” by Lloyd Douglas has full-color photographs and simple text to introduce young readers to simple machines, including roller coasters. For computer-based play, look for interactive online tools -- a Storyplace.org game asks preschoolers to count the number of wheels on a unicycle, a motorcycle and a tricycle. An Edheads.org game has kids identify common simple machines in the home.
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