Pulleys – Simple Machines For Kids

Pulleys – Simple Machines for Kids

What Are Pulleys?

A pulley is a term that is used to describe a collection of one or more wheels over which you loop a rope.

The purpose of this is to make it much easier to lift things. Pulleys are the prime example of what scientists call simple machines, but it is important to note that this does not mean that they are packed with engines or with gears.

All this means is that they help us to multiply forces.

So, if you are wanting to lift a really heavy weight then you should use a pulley because it will allow you to effectively multiply the force that your body produces. After all, there is only so much that one person can lift.

The way that pulleys work can be summarised as follows: the more wheels that you have and the more times that you loop the rope around them, the more that you will be able to lift.

The Science Behind Pulleys

Essentially, to keep this super simple, a pulley is a wheel which you loop a rope over. The key scientific concept for pulleys is that they actually redirect force.

Pulleys are used to be much more helpful to the user. So, instead of pushing a load up you can redirect the force applied to the load.

You can instead attach it to a rope and then you can run the rope through a pulley right above you. This will then enable you to pull down on the rope to move it up.

All pulley systems work to redirect force, and some pulley systems make work so much easier. This is because using a pulley system can allow a worker to use much less force to move the object.

Talking Through How A Pulley Action Works

To fully get into how a pulley works, we have a step-by-step walkthrough of just how a pulley functions.

  1. First of all you need to tie a rope on something heavy - this could be virtually anything. You could use a basket with books in it, or you could even use a sack of flour.
  2. Next, have a child lift the object off the ground by pulling up on the rope - you might find that the child will only be able to lift about six inches or so off the ground. This is partly due to the fact that this is pretty heavy, but also because let’s face it, it is only so high that their arms can reach.
  3. Have the child pick up the object itself and then try to lift it high up above their head with their arms - sure, the object will be much higher up now but it will feel a lot heavier to push up.
  4. Put the rope through a pulley up high and then pull down - you should find that it will feel a lot easier to pull down to lift the load, and it can actually go as high up as the pulley can be mounted.

How A Pulley Is Like A Lever

So, it is pretty clear that a pulley magnifies force in a way that is similar to a seesaw. This can be likened to a lever.

So, if you want to lift someone who is four times heavier than you on a seesaw then you would have to sit four times further away from the balancing point than they are. 

If you move your end of the level down by 4cm then their end of the seesaw would move up by only 1cm.

As they rise up they gain a certain amount of potential energy which is equal to their weight multiplied by the distance they move.

You lose exactly the same amount of energy which is equal to your weight multiplied by the distance you move.

You can shift their much bigger weight because you move your end of the seesaw over a much bigger distance.

The leverage of the seesaw will make it possible to produce more force by working over a bigger distance.

Well, the same thing is happening with a pulley. The difference is that you are pulling on a rope instead of moving to the end of a seesaw.

In order to lift something four times heavier you can use exactly the same amount of force but this will only happen if you pull the rope four times further.

Essentially, if you look at what is happening on both sides of a pulley and then multiply the force by the distance moved then you will find it is the same.

The way that this works is that on your side you will use a small force over a large distance, and then on the other side there is a much bigger weight that is moving a smaller distance.

Getting Better At Understanding Force

As we said in step four, it will feel a lot easier to pull down on a rope which is looped around a pulley.

This is just a body mechanics sensation - what we mean by this is that it is much easier to pull down because you can actually add your body weight into the motion. 

It is important to note that this is not a scientific measurement of the actual and also the total work that is needed. In fact, a single fixed pulley does not alter the amount of force which you will require to lift a load because it just redirects the force.

Movable Pulley

On a movable pulley the work will actually be distributed over two parts of the rope, and also the rope will be supporting part of the weight.

It is true that using a movable pulley will take up merely half as much of the work in order to pull the load up, but you will ultimately have to pull twice as much length of rope.

Compound Pulley

A compound pulley system will distribute the work over multiple pulleys. So, the more pulleys in your system then the less force you will have to use. And additionally, the more rope that you will have to move.

The Block And Tackle

The block and tackle has multiple loops of rope on multiple pulleys, and this means that the more we divide up the work then the less force that is needed overall.

This is the reason as to why block and tackle has been used to lift heavy loads for centuries.

Purchasing Pulleys For Your Kids To Play With

If you are keen to purchase a pulley set for your kids, then this is something you should definitely go through with!

Buying a pulley set for your kids is a great investment as this is a fun toy that they will be able to use in a variety of different ways.

Your kids will be able to enjoy using a pulley for many years, and also, you might even find other handy ways that you can use your pulley.

There are lots of amazing pulleys on the market, so here we will go through some of the best pulleys that you can pick up to help your children learn through play.


Rocari Pulleys To Be Used With A Nylon Rope

Rocaris 10 Pcs Stainless Steel Wire Rope Crane Pulley Block M20 Lifting Crane Swivel Hook Single Pulley Block Hanging Wire Towing Wheel
SGT KNOTS Solid Braid Nylon Utility Rope - Multipurpose Rope for Commercial Applications, Anchors, Crafts (3/8' x 250ft, Black)

The Rocari pulley is designed for hanging weight things to lighten the load. As expected, this pulley system will use gravity and skating to life.

Another important aspect to note is that the pulley rotation cylinder head is solid, durable and it can also rotate 360 degrees. This pulley is very durable, very reliable and it is also waterproof.

This pulley is also anti-rust, along with being anti-high temperature too. This pulley also resists corrosion too.

The fixed top also really helps with the ease of rope handling, along with the smooth roller which provides effective rope traverse.

You will find that you can save a lot of effort even when you want to change direction too.

Pros

  • This pulley wheel is a great fit - this is important to note because this ultimately means that a normal rope will not slip off the wheel and bind at the axle. 
  • Using nylon rope - this is much softer and also much easier on kids’ hands.
    Works well indoors and outdoors - this pulley is super versatile and it can essentially be used anywhere.

Cons

  • Reports that they can jam - this has only been the case for extremely heavy loads though.

An important thing to note about using pulleys in general is that you will need a lot of rope. Yeah, it is true that 20 feet of rope will barely be enough to use a fixed pulley as a means of lifting something.

We would recommend that you need at least 25 feet of rope if you are buying new. In fact, if you are someone who wants to use multiple pulleys, such as a block and tackle system, then you will need a lot more rope than this.


American Educational 7-1607 Pulley Kit

If you are looking for a pulley kit that is much more play friendly, or that is much more classroom friendly then this pulley would be the perfect purchase. This pulley kit is perfect for demonstrating the principles of physics. 

Some of these principles of physics include mechanical advantage in lifting, applying force, and also transmitting power.

Pros

  • Includes everything you need - this pulley kit comes with string, weights and a variety of pulleys. These pulleys come in single, double, triple and even tandem configurations.
  • Color coding used - the plastic wheels are color coded in accordance to their size. This is extremely helpful for easy and quick identification for kids.
  • Fun design - this is super engaging and entertaining for kids to play with and also to help them learn too.

Cons

  • Might have to invest in stronger string - mason line could be the perfect string to use alongside this pulley as it will not unravel, nor will it stretch and it is also easy to see. 

How Can You Get A Pulley Action Without Purchasing A Pulley

So, if you are someone who is wanting to introduce your kids to learning through play with a pulley but you are not too sure if they will completely engage with this then there are other pulley methods that you can try just to see how well your kids engage with this.

A great pulley substitute would be to try putting a rope over a doorknob, or you could even try to lay a broom over two desks with a gap between them so that the broom handle ends up bridging the gap, and then put a rope over the broom handle.

Alternatively, you could throw a rope over the side of a slide platform, or around a railing on an open staircase. You could also try to be super creative and really just be out there and make your very own pulley system.

Safety Notes To Bear In Mind When You Are Setting Up Your Pulley

It is really important to bear in mind that adult supervision is required at all times when pulleys are being used because anything involving ropes of any kind do come with pretty big safety risks.

However, you should find that your kids will love playing with pulleys. You tend to find that kids will be engaged with simpler activities, so a pulley will actually keep kids engaged for a super long period of time.

This is something which child development experts refer to as the transportation schema of play.

This is a really hands-on experience which is super effective in teaching kids about the physics behind simple machines. Also parents, we are sure that you will learn as you play alongside your kids too.

Here’s the thing, you can set up a wide variety of pulley systems for kids to play with and for kids to explore.

These are perfect for keeping kids engaged in the classroom, whether it be just for one lesson or whether it be for a couple of successive lessons.

Pulleys are something that you can set up in the playground too, or if you are looking to set this up for home usage then you could definitely set up pulleys in the backyard.

If you do this, then it can be left in the playground or backyard for months of fun.

Activities To Attempt With Different Types Of Pulleys

A Fixed Pulley

We mentioned a fixed pulley before, but this is a pulley which requires one pulley and also a high place to anchor it.

You will need to anchor the pulley by fastening it in a high place. Then you will need to tie a rope onto a bucket, and then run the rope up and over the pulley and right back down to the ground.

This will then allow a child who is standing on the ground to pull down on the loose end of the rope, and lift the basket right up high to the pulley.

You should find that this is the quickest and easiest pulley method to set up.

Additionally, this activity can be a lot more fun if the high anchor is situated next to someplace that the child can safely stand.

For instance, this could be on a slide platform, or on a stair landing, or it could even be in a tree house.

One person should be standing on the ground, and they should load a stuffed animal or another soft toy into the bucket. Then they should send this up.

The person who is on the platform can then send it back down in the basket, or alternatively they can toss it down or just send it down the slide.

A Movable Pulley

So, a movable pulley will need one pulley along with a high place to anchor one end of the rope.

This kind of pulley also requires the ability to stand and pull from higher up than the pulley is mounted. Then you should tie a rope up high, then run it down through a pulley that has the load hanging on it. 

Then you need to bring the end of the rope up high. Pull the rope up from above the anchor point just to bring the load up.

The upside with this pulley is that unlike the fixed pulley, the movable pulley can be used by one person. That’s right, you just need one kid up top to pull the rope and then subsequently catch the load.

This differs from the fixed pulley because you need two kids to be able to work this, one kid needs to be at the bottom to pull the rope, and there needs to be another kid at the top to catch the load.

With the movable pulley one kid can just run or climb down, then load the basket and just run or climb back up to the top and then pull the load up.

A Compound Pulley

The clue is kind of in the name, but the compound pulley requires two pulleys. This is because this is a combination of moveable and also a fixed pulley.

You then need to tie the rope up high, and then you need to run the rope down through the pulley.

You need to run the rope through pulley one which has a load attached to it and then back up through pulley two, and then down to the ground. With this pulley you need to pull down in order to lift the load up.

A Block And Tackle Pulley

So, it is important to note that there are a whole host of variants of block and tackle. For the simple version of the block and tackle, you need to anchor a pulley.

Once you have done this you should tie the rope down around the second pulley, and then back up around the first pulley. This kind of pulley requires you to pull down in order to lift up.

A Basket On A Track Pulley

The fixed pulley has a function to lift things vertically, so straight up from the ground. The basket on a track is a variant on the fixed pulley, and this is where you can get a vertical and horizontal movement as the basket travels up a slanted track.

You should start by either running the track cord through the handle on the bucket or also through a pulley which is attached to the bucket.

The pulley actually allows it to run much more smoothly. Then, you should tie the ends of the cord to anchors just so that you can form your track.

It is important to note that you need to make sure that the cord is taut, and the basket can slide much easier up and down the cord.

You should tie one end of the rope to the basket handle and then throw the rope over the pulley, and then leave it hanging down. When you pull down on the cord then the basket will slide up the track.

A Clothesline Pulley

This type of pulley does not just require one pulley, because it actually requires two pulleys. You need to attach pulleys to anchor points and then take a rope and wrap it around both pulleys. Then you should tie it and make one big loop.

You can clip things onto the clothesline with clothespins or you can tie a basket or some other kind of container onto it.

You can then pull on either the top cord or on the bottom cord to bring the basket from one end right to the other.

This is easy for kids of all ages to work and it can be a whole lot of fun for kids ranging from as young as two years old to kids in elementary. 

Also, a vertical clothesline can work like a flagpole to raise things higher up.

Maths Extension Tasks For This Pulley Activity

Pulleys – Simple Machines for Kids

So, if you are wanting to add extra elements to this learning experience then there is a very simple way that you can do this. You can add weighted objects to the pulley baskets.

You could consider adding small weights to the baskets, or you could even arrange to test out a whole host of different objects.

It is important to note that the objects that you use will be entirely dependent on the strength of your baskets, and also the objects that you choose depend on the strength of the rope that you are using.

Additionally, the objects that you use in the baskets depend on the strength of your child.

The task could be to count how many of the objects you can lift with each type of pulley, and you could also have a timed activity to see which type of pulley helps you to get the most work done.

More Fun Activities To Try

The activities that you can try with the pulley are pretty varied and versatile, and you can even make up your own activities as you go along to suit the ages of your kids.

We completely understand that there are some things that will be super engaging for younger kids, but when it comes to older kids these things will not be so engaging and vice versa.

You could try having kids make their own pulley kits, this would be especially effective for you if you are unsure whether or not you want to invest in a pulley kit.

You can get the kids to make their own pulley kits out of bobbins, mini clothespins and dixie cups and if they engage with this activity then you know that purchasing a pulley kit will be a great idea.

You can also purchase materials to get other materials to decorate the clothespins and cups! You might also find that you need some other materials too such as yarn, a ruler, scissors and also ziplock bags.

This could also help the kids to create their very own sample pulley system, or this could be something that you make before the kids just so that they have something to copy from.

The kids can be as particular with copying your model as they like which is where the ruler comes in especially handy.

Featuring Pulleys In Class Discussion

You might be wondering how exactly you can have an extensive lesson on pulleys. However, this is very possible.

If you are trying to plan a pulleys-only themed class lesson then you could start by doing a demonstration of how each system that you have set up works, and what the advantages of using each system are.

Just to be clear you would demo a fixed pulley, a movable pulley and a compound pulley. You could also demo a block and tackle pulley too.

As a topic, we understand that it is difficult to make pulleys the feature of an entire class lesson. This is a topic which can be combined with other topics too.

This can be something that you keep within the realm of maths and science, or this can be something that you broaden out into other realms of the curriculum.

You could use English Literature or even art to help make this lesson as engaging as possible.

Let us give you some examples of ways that you can combine other elements of the curriculum with pulleys.

You could keep this activity within the realm of maths and science by using a variety of materials to test the pulley system. 

You could use different weighted items to test the pulley out, and you can work out which items require the most effort to lift up in the pulley.

You do not have to make investments in a whole host of items, you can just use items that you have available to use in the classroom.

You could just use different pens, pencils and maybe even dominoes or just other general classroom items.

To incorporate English Literature skills into a pulley lesson, you could use this as a means of acting out or recreating a story that involves climbing or transportation of some kind.

You could use a pulley system to recreate a well, or it could even be used in a recreation of Rapunzel. This would require you having some kind of tower replica so you will have to be extra creative with this kind of pulley lesson.

Pulleys are a great way to help you engage especially younger kids in a story telling portion of a lesson.

You can incorporate art and design into a pulley lesson by getting kids to create the replicas to help tell a story. Or, you could really test the kids by getting them to come up with an invention of some kind using a pulley system.

There are a whole host of ways that you can create lesson plans with pulleys in them, and you can feature pulleys within your lessons in a way that is engaging and enjoyable.

Setting Up Your Pulley Class

So, it is important to note that setting up your lesson featuring pulleys will take a lot more time than the standard lesson.

If you are planning on having a lesson using pulleys then you need to give yourself plenty of time to set up beforehand. 

Depending on the kind of activity that you have planned, you could even take over an hour to set up the classroom ready for the pulley lesson.

You might be questioning if it is actually worth taking this long to set up a lesson, but lessons that feature pulleys are super fun for kids to get involved in.

The value of learning through play is very unmatched, so this alone should be a motivating factor to set up a pulley lesson.

You can design the pulley lesson to suit you in whatever capacity, so you could just feature one kind of pulley - or you could feature a selection of pulleys depending on what exactly you have planned.

In Conclusion: Simple Machines

Simple machines are a key element of the learning curriculum, where young students can be introduced to the basic concepts of simple machines.

The best way that you can teach young students about simple machines is to immerse them in a fully hands-on experience.

This will allow the young students to have a thorough exploration of the principles and it will also encourage them to pick out simple machines in the world around them.

To summarise, a pulley fits into the category of simple machines because a simple machine can be defined as: a machine with very few moving parts or no moving parts at all.

The main idea behind simple machines is that they ultimately make it significantly easier to complete work.

For instance, simple machines can work as a means of reducing the amount of time it will take to get work done. Or, simple machines can help you to change the direction of the force that you apply, and this can in turn make it easier to complete the work.

This can be showcased to younger kids through the lens of being ‘big and strong’ like their parents. We have established that kids will find pulleys engaging if they can interact with them and then also spot them in their real lives.

We have established that pulleys work through force - but science can break this down even further. When it comes to defining work in scientific terms, well work is using a force as a means of moving an object.

Alternatively, if you were to use force and nothing were to move then this is not classed as being work.

Anyone can push on a brick wall, but nothing will happen when you do this. Pushing, pulling and lifting all count as being forms of work.

Overall, pulleys are a great way to introduce younger students to the concept of force, and getting kids to measure how much work it takes to do something.

A pulley is a simple machine that consists of a wheel rotating about its axle. A pulley is constructed by looping a rope around the wheel, and a pulley is used to lift heavy objects. This is done by applying force at one end of the rope.

We hope that this article has given you a lot of new ideas on how to make your class or home featuring a pulley system super engaging for kids to enjoy and interact with.

Elena Jones

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