Last Updated: July 14, 2022
Reviewed & Fact Checked by Rebecca Carlock
It’s always great when you’re able to get your kids interested in learning about the world around them. One of the best ways to do this is through play. If learning is fun, then kids will want to keep doing it and will remember what they learned with much less effort.
This means that there are lots of good ways that you can get them to learn about science and engineering. One of them is to teach them about simple machines.
Machines come in all shapes and sizes and with a million different purposes, and there are several basic ones that kids can easily build and learn from.
1. A Pulley
You probably have everything you’ll need for this project lying around your home already, so you probably won’t need to go out to buy anything extra. It’s very simple.
All you’ll need is some string or rope, a rolling pin, and something to lift. It doesn’t matter too much what you lift, but buckets work well.
Simply tie the rope around the rolling pin and then attach the other end to the things you want to lift. A good way to show the kids exactly what they’re doing here is to get them to try to lift the heavy thing with just their hands first.
When they realize how heavy it is, attach that thing to the pulley and get them to lift it using that. They’ll see right away that it’s much easier to use the pulley.
2. A Wheel And Axle
This one is also pretty simple. Obviously, wheels and axles are all around us – cars, bicycles, electric fans, etc. Get 4 paper plates and glue them together in two pairs so that the tops are facing each other.
Next, take a sharp pencil and push it through the plates so that it becomes an axle. Let your kids roll it around and ask them if it reminds them of anything they’ve seen. If they can connect it to cars and bikes, they’re learning!
3. A Lever
Levers are another simple machine that makes it easier for us to lift heavy loads.
Again, you can probably make it without going out to buy anything. All you’ll need is a metal or wooden ruler (plastic might work but is not ideal) or other flat sturdy material, a large binder clip, and some objects to use as weights.
Take the metal clips off of the binder clip and put the ruler on top of it (with the clip in the middle so the ruler’s balanced like a teeter-totter.
Now put a heavy weight at one end. That end will sink. Ask your kids what they think will happen if they add a lighter weight to the other end. Then move the clip towards the end with the heavy weight.
Ask them what they think will happen if they add a lighter weight to the other end now. They may or may not be surprised to see that the lighter weight can lift the heavier weight thanks to the lever!
4. A Ramp
Ramps (more formally called inclined planes) are even simpler than some of the other machines on this list since they have no moving parts. You can use the same ruler (or other flat, sturdy object) that you used to make the lever in this machine as well.
You’ll also need a stack of books and a round weight – an orange or a smallish ball would work perfectly.
Get your child to roll the weight up the ramp and ask them if they think it would be easier to pick it up directly. Then ask them if they would still think so if the object was much heavier and needed to be moved for a long distance.
5. A Wedge
Wedges can be described as two ramps put together. Give your kids a large chunk of play-dough and get them to try to break it apart.
The rule is that they can only use one hand (so they can’t use both to tear it apart). They might be able to squash it, but not separate it into two pieces. Next, give them a triangular block to use – they should be able to separate it.
Ask them if they can think of any other wedges around the house – knives and chisels are great examples.
6. A Screw
Screws have so many different uses. One of them is to convert rotational motion to vertical motion.
Thankfully, it’s very easy to demonstrate this to your kids. Give them an ordinary glass jar with a screw top. Ask them why you have to turn the lid to take it off, rather than just pulling it up.
Then ask them if they can think of any other times when it might be useful to convert rotational motion to vertical motion, particularly with heavy objects.
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