Grandparents Teach, too

Great fun and physics with racing ramps

Sabin, Davis, Hetrick, Anderegg, Macalady, Walker, Darling, and Katers

What’s more fun for young children than playing with their toy cars?

Here is an exciting way to incorporate science into playtime.

You will need boxes, books, small cars, balls, marbles, thin boards at least 8 inches wide, or a series of tubes, and masking tape.

Gravity and friction

Choose a space where cars can roll freely and use a board and one box to build a ramp with one end higher than the other. Show children how to hold cars at the top and let go without pushing. How far will the cars go without our help? Experiment with several cars and determine which is the fastest or slowest? Does the kind of vehicle make a difference?

You can experiment with ways to add boxes to make the cars go faster and farther. Children may add as many blocks as possible or a series of ramps. It is not easy to make a good racing ramps. Some will be too low or too high. Encourage cooperation and finding the best strategy.

Encourage problem solving and discussion as you work together to find ramps that do what you want. Draw a design for the best ramp. “What can we do if the board keeps falling off? How can we fix the ramp so that the cars don’t crash or go off the side?”

Have trial runs to compare distance and mark the distance on the floor with tape. You may want to show how to measure with yard stick or a number of hands. Place the ramp on a checkered tablecloth and count how many squares each car travels. Which ramp style is the best for making cars go farther?

Explain the concept of gravity that pulls things like balls and cars down a ramp. What happens when you add masking tape strip bumps or sandpaper and the friction slows objects. How slowly can you make the cars go but still roll to the bottom?

Early physics

Young children learn science best with hands-on activities that give them a chance to explore, ask questions, manipulate objects, and seek answers and solutions. Adult interaction during playtime nurtures this style of learning.

Children can try other materials like paper towel, and toilet paper tubes with marbles if they do not put those in their mouth. Try to predict which size will be best. Does weight make a difference? Experiment to see which predictions are correct. Discuss why some objects work better than others. Then take a walk to look for ramps on playgrounds, handicap access areas, and businesses.

Visit the library for books on ramps such as “Roll, Slope, and Slide” by Michael Dahl. For more science fun see; Through the Seasons; Pinterest, and Facebook since 2009.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Grandparents Teach, Too is a non-profit organization of elementary and preschool teachers from Marquette, Michigan. The writers include: Jan Sabin, Mary Davis, Jean Hetrick, Cheryl Anderegg, Esther Macalady, Colleen Walker, Fran Darling, and Iris Katers. Their mission since 2009 is to help parents, grandparents, and other caregivers of young children provide fun activities to help prepare young children for school and a life long love of learning. They are supported by Great Start, Parent Awareness of Michigan, the U.P. Association for the Education of Young Children, Northern Michigan School of Education, the Upper Peninsula Children’s Museum and the Northern Michigan University Center for Economic Education.