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Combining Physics and Fun - Summer Time Learning at the Playground

Published Aug 18, 2017 | Updated Feb 19, 2020

Real world experiences unlock opportunities to reinforce traditional learning. Kids are more apt to retain information when they receive it is as part of a pleasurable experience.

Playgrounds offer the perfect setting for first physics lessons

Playgrounds are kid magnets, sending a friendly beacon from a distance that fun awaits! The familiar movements of swinging, sliding, spinning, bouncing and climbing are a great starting point to showing them what's what in physics by conducting some fun experiments.

Got that swing?

Good, because it’s time to learn all about pendulums. This motion isn’t possible without the force of gravity, and swings make the perfect learning vessels. Using a stopwatch, a swing and a sampling of friends of different sizes, test if chain length and weight can impact the timing of the swing making its arc.

Test out some fun variations, such as seeing how many swings it takes to come to a stop, and whether a smaller child gets more swings in than a larger one. Do they go faster when taking longer arcs or shorter arcs? Discover more ideas with this blog posted by Scientific American.

From there, keep an eye out for real-world examples of pendulums, such as clocks, machinery and even amusement park rides.

How can you go super-fast on a slide?

No gravity, no sliding. What you have is the perfect tool to show how different variables can affect how fast you can race to the bottom.

With that, it’s time for another series of speed experiments with a mission of going down a slide with the most possible speed.

Using the trusty stopwatch and the tallest slide you can find, test variations. Does a larger child slide more quickly than a smaller child? What happens if you slide laying on your back versus sitting up? What does clothing material do to the timing, such as denim versus smooth polyester?

Water parks can also impart other insightful lessons about gravity. With their steeper angles, dizzying heights and friction-free water jets, they boldly bring something close to a free-fall experience. With that, they’ll “see” the intention behind the design of any slide. Is the slide meant for daredevils or small children?

Other physics fun to find on the playground

So what about other playground equipment? It depends on what your local playground has to offer.

Use the teeter-totter to show how simple machines can be helpful in lifting heavy objects. Is it easier to lift a sibling with your arms or at the edge of a teeter-totter?

Place a small object on the merry-go-round — see what happens if you place it in the center versus setting it near the edge.

Spin them on the tire swing and talk about that feeling of pressure on their bodies when the swing switches directions, or when the car makes a sudden stop, which is inertia.

At any rate, the playground offers a fun and friendly environment for older kids to get their first lessons in physics. What else can you discover about the science of motion?

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