Preschool Science: Learning at the Playground!

Preschool Science: Learning at the Playground!

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Updated on Jun 24, 2009

While the thought of science learning may make the mightiest adult buckle at the knees, it doesn’t frighten young children one iota. That's because kids have an innate sense of adventure and are naturally curious about how the world works - two prerequisites for science learning that preschoolers have in spades. But in order for a child’s natural sense of awe to grow into a bonafide interest in science, it must be nurtured.

Rest assured: you don’t have to join the ranks of Sir Isaac Newton, or wear a fancy lab coat to teach your preschooler simple physics concepts. “Lessons in science can be implemented into a child’s everyday experiences,” says retired pre-kindergarten teacher Tricia Young. And there is no better place to start than at your kid’s favorite outdoor hotspot. Here’s how to turn your child’s romp at the playground into a fun-filled adventure in science!

  • Gaining Momentum
    Momentum gives things the power to increase at an ever growing speed. Each time your child hops on a swing and pumps her legs, momentum is at work. The more she pumps those legs, the faster the swing will go!

    On your next visit to the playground with your preschooler, head over to the swing set and introduce her to the concept of momentum. Start by saying something like, “Let’s see how much momentum you can build by pumping your legs on the swing.” Once your preschooler begins to move her legs, observe out loud that the momentum she's building by moving her legs is making the swing go faster. And when your child stops moving her legs, explain that since her legs are no longer in motion, the swing will lose momentum, and slow down until it stops.
  • Resistance Training
    Friction is the resistance encountered by moving objects when they are in contact with each other, and it is at play in everyday life – even when kids are at the playground. So before you head out on your next playground excursion, grab a carpet square and a large piece of cloth made from a material such as cotton (an old t-shirt will do).

    Once you get to the playground, head on over to the sliding board and let your preschooler slide down while she’s sitting on the carpet square, and then again while sitting on the cloth material. When your child is done with the experiment, ask her which material gave the smoothest ride. Naturally, the carpet square will cause more resistance on the sliding board surface, so your youngster won’t have an easy time sliding down. Whereas the soft cloth will produce significantly less friction and glide effortlessly down the sliding board. Your child can do this simple friction activity using other materials such as cardboard, butcher paper, and waxed paper.
  • Balancing Act
    In order to achieve balance, two objects must be equal in weight to cancel each other out and maintain stability. And the perfect place to teach your child about the physics of balance is on a seesaw! You’ll need at least two people to carry out this experiment, preferably someone with a slight weight variance to your child, and a sturdy seesaw, such as the ones found on playgrounds. For safety purposes, lay down some ground rules for the kids to follow such as no jumping on or off the seesaw.

    Once the rules are established, have the child that weighs the least sit on one end of the seesaw first, and then have the heavier child or adult sit on the opposite end. Did the seesaw stay balanced? Now, have the child that weighs the most scoot towards the center of the teeter-totter to see what happens. If the heavier child keeps inching towards the center, the seesaw will eventually balance – not because the kids’ weights changed, but because the larger child created enough distance on the seesaw to offset the weight of the child on the opposite end!
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