Easy Projects on Simple Machines for Kids
A child's curiosity can flourish through projects involving simple machines. Pick a project based on the child’s age and skill level for a learning experience disguised as play. Begin by identifying some of the simple machines children see and use every day. Create more complex machines by joining several simple machines together to achieve a task. Show the children how to identify the simple machines within the compound machines.
A lever is a rigid piece that rests on a fulcrum -- a pivot point -- to move weight. A seesaw is a good example. Mark the center point on an 18-inch long piece of wood. Create a rudimentary seesaw by placing the wood on a fulcrum, such as several pencils held together with a rubber band. Use various-sized weights to move the seesaw. Demonstrate that moving the fulcrum changes the weight needed to balance the seesaw. In the right position, a lesser weight will overbalance a greater one. Have the children look for other applications of the fulcrum principle. Have the children identify other levers around them, such as door handles, pry bars and scissors.
Wheel and Axle
Students may be familiar with a wheel, but it won't move objects without an axle, a rigid rod that locks a pair of wheels together and transfers motion. Have the students try to move a large weight, such as a box of books. Lift one edge of the box and place several lengths of 1-inch diameter dowel under the edge. Show the students how the dowels act as wheels, making it easier to move the weight across the width of the box. Have them list other ways wheels help things move.
A pulley combines a grooved wheel with a rope to move object by reversing force. Tie a cord or rope around a large weight. Have the children try to lift the weight by pulling straight up on the rope. Measure how high they can lift the weight. Secure the package to a pulley and demonstrate how pulling in a different direction through the pulley can lift the weight higher and more easily. The pulley redirects the force of the pull. Have children identify other uses of pulleys, such as to raise and lower window blinds, or flags on a flag pole.
Secure a plank to a chair seat to create an inclined plane -- a simple slope. Have the students compare the force necessary to move a weight to the chair seat by direct lifting with the weight needed to slide the weight up the slope to the seat. Hang a small pulley from the back of the seat to show how a pulley and slope can work together to make the task even easier. Place dowels under the weight on the plane for an even more complex machine.
A screw is an inclined plane wrapped around a cylinder. It is a way to securely fasten two objects together or to lift or lower an object smoothly. A screw is impossible to operate without a lever to rotate it into or onto the other object. A screwdriver is a type of lever, as is your arm when you turn the threaded lid of a jar onto a threaded jar lip. Set out a plastic threaded jar and lid and ask students to try to fasten it by pressing down, then by turning it, using their hand as the lever. Identify other screws, such as light bulb bases, drill bits, carpentry screws, chair lifts and corkscrews.
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