Friday, April 13, 2012

Preschoolers Explore S.T.E.M.: Play with Simple Machines

Simple Machines are so simple a child can use them – and understand them. Exploring them was a perfect beginning point for our Preschool S.T.E.M. series of classes. Wheels, levers, screws, wedges, pulleys and inclined planes are found throughout your house. When children begin to understand how simple machines make their work easier to do, child’s play grows into science, technology and engineering.
Children take wheels for granted until they try to move a heavy object. In the class, we asked children to slide heavy boxes along the floor. Then we set the boxes on top of a series of thick dowels. With these acting as rollers, the boxes rolled smoothly along their surface. The benefit of a round wheel was tangible. The class explored the need for axles in the center of wheels by connecting round papers with brass paper fasteners called brads. Connect any two pieces of paper with a brass paper brad and you have a wheel and axle.

Another simple machine, an inclined plane, was used to help the children lift the heavy box onto a table. However, lifting is not the way that children usually connect with ramps. Children are familiar with seeing ramps outside of buildings and in parking garages. Ask your child how you would get the car to the top if there wasn’t a ramp!

Levers are another simple machine that the class explored. Seesaws on playgrounds used to be a familiar introduction to levers for most children. When they went up, their friend’s side went down. Children still intuitively use objects as levers to lift or pry open things.

You can explore many simple machines at the Museum, including Ramps & Rollers and the Archimedes Screw Ball Lifter in Make It Move and the seesaw in Math Connections. See what other simple machines you can find on your next visit!

Children build and experiment with inclined planes in our Make It Move Neighborhood.
Simple machines are so simple that we use them without considering their vital role in the world of S.T.E.M. Look for future blog entries on DCM’s Preschool S.T.E.M. series that explore forces in our world.

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