Head out to your nearest slide and explore gravity and friction! This playground science activity is a great way for young children to explore physics using a variety of materials right in their own backyard or at the neighborhood or school playground!
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When doing Science experiments and science activities with young children, my main goal is to inspire them to make predictions and critically think about the world around them. You can encourage hands-on science exploration right in your neighborhood or own backyard. In this easy science activity for kids, children use a playground slide as a ramp (or inclined plane) and explore the speed of various objects sliding down it. Such a simple and fun way for young children to explore physics!
Exploring Ramps and Friction with a Playground Slide
Materials for Playground Science Activity
- Slide (Find a slide at your local playground or use one in your backyard like this.)
- Various objects (You can use natural materials like pinecones, sticks, and rocks, or things from your home.)
- Optional: Stopwatch or timer on your phone (Here’s a set of 6 timers for kids if you’re doing this with a class.)
Procedure for Exploring Friction and Ramps on a Slide
1. Gather materials to roll down the slide. We walked around the park and found things like a pinecone, various rocks, and a stick. You could also use things from home or that you wore to the playground- maybe a baseball cap, sunglasses, a toy car or a shoe.
2. Climb up the slide with your items. Have a partner near the bottom of the slide with a stopwatch or timer. Make sure you are to the side of the slide and a safe distance away and that no other people are nearby. (Do not stand directly in front of the slide. Items can launch off the bottom and hit you- especially heavy items like rocks.)
3. Time how long it takes the first item to get from the top of the slide to the bottom. Do this with the other items. Why do you think the amount of time is different for each item? How long do you think it will take you yourself to get down the slide? What about your friend or parent?
What’s Going On?
Gravity is pulling the items down the slide, but there’s another element of physics in play- friction (or resistance). The force of friction results from two things rubbing against each other- like a pinecone and the slide. Friction works against gravity to slow items as they go down the slide. Each item going down the slide creates a different amount of friction (depending on many variables) to affect its speed.
Want to go even further?
Even more related activities to inspire creativity and critical thinking for various ages.
- Try this activity using different types of balls: like a tennis ball, ping pong ball, and a golf ball. Which do you think will travel the longest distance past the edge of the slide? Why do you think this? Test it out! Measure the distance each ball traveled.
- Invite children to create a chart to record their findings. This is a great way for kids to learn to organize their results and be able to analyze them later on.
- Try to find items that will not roll down the slide. Why do you think they won’t roll down the slide while other items do?
- Brainstorm why understanding friction is important in everyday life. For instant, what would happen if our shoes were smooth with no traction?
- Try climbing up the slide in different types of shoes. Which were easier? Which which harder? Why do you think the different shoes affected how easily or difficult it was to climb the slide?
- Take this experiment home by creating ramps with different textures and see how they affect the speed of toy cars rolling down them. Find the directions here.
- Make your own wooden ramps for toy cars. Explore how the incline of the ramps affect the speed of the cars through play. (These wooden ramps are perfect for outdoor play at home and at school!)
- Use foam core to build your own simple ramp at home. Kids will learn all kinds of physics through play!
Be sure to check out STEAM Kids book and ebook for even more creative STEM and STEAM ideas!