Ramps, or inclined planes, are a great way to explore physics concepts. Trial and error, gravity, hand-eye coordination, motor skills, critical thinking, problem solving, are some of the skills that are developed when playing with ramps. This challenge is based on an activity I did for physics class when I was in high school. It involved a lot more precise measuring and math but we have simplified it so that even preschoolers can enjoy it! The activity is pretty simple, it involves building a ramp out of recycled materials and then experimenting with it. Check out the process below.
- Cardboard boxes
- Paper towel or toilet rolls
- Masking tape
- Scissors or other cutting tools
- Marbles or balls of different sizes
2. Build Your Own Ramp
This part is open-ended. Gather your recycled materials and build a ramp. If you need an example check out ours in the images.
We just taped some kitchen rolls together and then created a base by cutting a hole out of some cardboard to put the rolls through. We also added some stability to the bottom by adding another piece of cardboard. It really doesn’t have to look amazing, the important thing is that it is steady and doesn’t fall when you roll marbles down it.
3. Spoon Ding Challenge
Now for the fun part!! Place the ramp up high so that objects will roll off a table or chair. It also should be at the edge so that when the objects leave the ramp they go into free fall. We secured it with more tape so that it wouldn’t move. This is important for the challenge.
Position is important. Once an object is in free fall, it is only pulled by gravity. This means that its trajectory is determined by the distance to the ground (which we are keeping constant) and the speed at which it leaves the ramp. The speed might vary slightly because our ramp might not be perfectly smooth or because our kids throw the ball in instead of just dropping it. But most of the time the trajectory will be similar enough and the marble will mostly hit the same spot on the floor, which is quite cool!
Give your children time to explore and play, place containers on the floor and try to catch the marbles. Make small changes to the setting and see what happens. Our kids had lots of fun with this.
After playing with the ramp you can add a challenge. It’s time to see if you can hear a “ding”. Have your kid watch the spot where the marbles hit the ground and have them place the spoon there. Time to see if they got the spot right! Let some marbles roll and keep your eyes closed to see if you can hear the “ding”. Keep going, it will happen quite often and it is very satisfactory to hear how you hit the target!!
Change the position of the ramp and repeat. See how many times in a row you can hear that “ding”!
This activity is great for all ages. For toddlers, you are encouraging fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, object permanence and basic vocabulary. For the preschool ages you can further enrich vocabulary and work on critical thinking, problem solving, trial and error, and basic physics concepts, such as gravity. Going one step further, you can use this simple setup for elementary-aged kids and get into a bit more math by measuring distance and height, letting them be more involved in the process of building the ramp, working on engineering design skills and so much more!
To experiment with the concept of free fall and the different variables (speed and distance), here are some suggestions:
- Mark the spot
- Move the ramp back or forward. Is it easier to predict the spot if the ball rolls off the table instead of directly from the ramp? What changed, speed or distance?
- Try with different sized/weight balls. Do you have to move your mark forward/backwards? What changed?
- Put some books under your ramp, or change the slope (make it steeper or more flat). Where does your mark go now? What changed?
- Can you predict where it will land? Measure how far your mark is and recreate somewhere else
Build Or Create More Fun Things Together:
- Hands-on Engineering For Kids: How To Make A Wind Farm
- Milk The Cow STEM Challenge: Can You Mimic Nature?
- STEM Challenge: The Tower of Random Things
- STEM Activity: Build a Pyramid and Learn about Shapes
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Check Out Parenting Tips And Inspiration For STEM At Home:
- What is STEM and why is STEM Learning important?
- 5 Tips to Transform STEM Activities at Home
- 5 Reasons for Supporting STEM Learning at Home
- Discover The Best Strategies For Learning That Sticks
- Play-Based Learning: How Children Learn Through Play
- Have You Wondered With Your Kid Today?
- The Dos And Don’ts Of Free Play. A STEM Perspective
- Connect As A Family Through Play And Discovery
- How To Develop Early Math Skills Outdoors