Bowling for Math and Physics

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Our family loves bowling. It’s fun even if you’re terrible at it (which we are), and it’s inexpensive. This past week my 6-year-old asked if we could go bowling for our adventure day. Fortunately what seems like a morning off is actually full of math and physics for almost any level!  

So hit your local bowling alley, get an at home set, or just set up 10 water bottles and grab a ball. Then try the math activities below that work best for your kids: 


How many pins are there? How many pins did you knock down? How many pins are left? Bowling is full of opportunities to count with your child. If you’re playing at home, keeping score can also provide an opportunity to practice number recognition or writing numbers.


Bowling is, at its core, a game of subtraction. You start with 10 pins standing, and you want to get that number as close to zero as possible. You can practice subtraction casually and verbally (“Oh you knocked down 3 pins! How many do you want to knock down this time?”) Or, you can create a more formal work product:

Write down 10 – ___ = ___ – ___ =___, either 10 times for a formal game, or as many as you like at home. Your child can track their game by subtracting the number they knock down in each frame.


Bowling naturally lends itself to learning fractions, because any number of pins you knock down is out of 10. Use my Bowling Fractions worksheet for an introduction to fractions. Once your child gets the concept of turning their bowling frame into a fraction, move on to reducing those fractions (so 8/10 becomes 4/5).


Why can mommy and little sister hit the exact same spot on the pins, but mommy gets a strike and little sister only knocks down a few pins? Force! 

This is the perfect time to teach the formula for force!

Force = Mass x Acceleration

The variables in the situation above are (1) the ball’s mass, and (2) how fast the ball is moving. Mom can probably throw a heavier ball than little sister. She can also probably throw it faster. If you’re at a bowling alley, play around with this concept by having each family member throw several different weights of bowling ball.

Be careful doing this! Help little kids carry balls up to the lane. Most bowling alleys have ramps for little bowlers. I carry the ball for my 3-year-old, put it on top of the ramp, and then she pushes it down.


The optimal impact point to bowl a strike is here:

How do you get there? Bowling instructors often use a laser pointer to show students the best angle to hit at the optimal strike point. If you’re not a serious bowler, use bumpers and play around with different angles. 

Since you can’t really get into the lane and take measurements, bowling works best as an introduction to play around with the concepts surrounding angles and trajectory. For more, check out these experiments. And get yourself a rocket launcher.


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