Chase the Wind – Physics for Littles

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We’ve been doing some great physics work for upper elementary level these past few weeks. But what about those of us with little ones tagging along? Fortunately lessons in force offer a great opportunity to get outside and play on a windy day! It’s also a good way to transition from our mostly indoor physics unit to our mostly outdoor Springtime Science biology unit.

Here’s what we use to explore the force created by wind:

You can really use anything that moves with the wind. Ribbons and fabric work too. Sheets and pillowcases make great capes.

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Start by talking about wind. What is wind? If you can’t see it, how do you know it’s there?

Use your wind-revealing materials to play with wind. As free play starts to wind down, ask more questions. Which way is the wind blowing? How do you know?

Look for the windiest and least windy spots. Now is a good time to tie it in to what we’ve learned about force. What do your wind catching materials do when the wind is stronger? This is a good free form lesson where young kids can engage in educational play, and older kids can talk about what they learned, using concrete examples, before moving on to the next unit.

Speaking of, keep an eye out for our upcoming biology unit, Springtime Science!

Arcade Physics

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After our trip to the bowling alley, we continued our physics lesson with a trip to the arcade! If your kids love games, grab this worksheet and read on for another fun lesson in physics!

Ski-Ball Physics!

Force

Just like we did in the bowling alley, we found opportunities to play with the force formula at the arcade. Remember:

Force = Mass x Acceleration

The bowling alley offers more opportunities to play with the mass piece, since the balls for arcade games tend to be standard sizes. But there are lots of ways to play with acceleration!

Acceleration is the change in velocity (speed and direction) over time

Try throwing your ski-ball at different speeds. Bounce it off the side and see what happens. See how slowly you can release a pin ball, and how that impacts the game.

Trajectory

Remember in my bowling post when I said you can’t get in there and measure the trajectory angle? Well fortunately arcades offer a little more flexibility! Get yourself a tool to measure angles, and get in there! Find the best trajectory for different games.

But What if We Can’t Get to an Arcade?

You can build your own pin ball machine! You will need:

  • A shallow, rectangular box (soda can packs and cereal boxes with one side removed work great)
  • Two craft sticks
  • Rubber bands
  • Craft supplies (we like repurposed trash!) to create any desired obstacles. Dixie cups and toilet paper rolls work great!
  • A large marble or similarly sized ball
  • Markers for decoration
Home made pin ball!

Cut the box as necessary to make a shallow rectangle. Cut slots about an inch and a half from the bottom for the craft sticks. Place rubber bands around the craft stick, like this:

Insert them in the box so there is just enough room for your ball to fit between the inside ends, and your fingers can press down on the outside ends. Then place another rubber band on each stick so that there is one rubber band on either side of the slot, holding the stick in place. You should be able to move them like pin ball flippers by pressing down on the ends outside the box.

Create whatever decorations, obstacles, and points goals you like inside. Get creative! Then drop your marble in and play!

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: 

Counting

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.

Subtraction

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.

Fractions

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).

Force

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.

Trajectory

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.

P.S.

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