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# How Toys Work

By Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

Much of children’s understanding of the energy sources that power their toys will stem from their incidental experiences. Think ahead about the teaching strategies you’ll use to foster children’s exploration of how their toys work.

Sources of Energy

Children as a Source of Energy: As children play with cars, trains, or trucks they push themselves, provide them with two or more wood or plywood planks.

• Put a wedge under one plank to create a slanted road. Buttress this roadway with another plank. As children roll their cars and trucks down the plank, ask,
• How far did the truck/car roll?
• Could you make it go farther? How?
• Then have the children roll one car along the floor and another car down the ramp, and ask,
• Which car rolls the farthest?
• Which car goes the fastest?
• Next tie a piece of rope or heavy string to a few vehicles, and ask,
• Can you make the car roll up the plank?
• Now have children pull them up the ramp.
• While you’re playing outside, take a few vehicles, planks, and rope with you. Have children try to roll their cars in sand, over the sidewalk, and through the grass. Ask them to compare and contrast their experiences.
• On what surface is it easier to pull or roll the cars?
• What causes the difference?
• Have children record their experiences in sketches and drawings.

Springs as a Source of Energy: You’ll want to find a few vehicles that use springs as the source of energy. After children wind up the spring, ask them to repeat some of their experiences with cars they moved themselves.

• Have children wind up the vehicles and race them while other children push. Ask children to measure which goes the farthest and the fastest.
• Try the spring-driven cars outside, on concrete, sand, gravel, and other surfaces. Compare the spring-driven cars with those pushed by hand over the same surfaces.
• Take apart one of the cars so children can see the spring. Have them watch the spring as they wind it and as it releases. Relate the spring to the motion of the car.
• Find other toys that use springs as an energy source. You might find a windup doll or animal.
• Read L. Lionni’s Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse, a magical story about a windup mouse.

Electricity as a Source of Energy: With an expert in electricity to help you, ask children to experiment with lighting a flashlight bulb. Connecting the wires to the bulb holder and to the two points on the battery will light the bulb. Have several sets so a number of children can experiment at the same time.

• Find toy cars, other vehicles, dolls, or other battery-powered toys. Take these apart to show children the batteries. Four- and 5-year-olds might be able to learn the 2 and 1 signs and to match these signs on the battery to those in the toy.
• Provide children with a few small flashlights. Show them how the batteries are inserted into the light to turn the bulb on.

Wind as a Source of Energy: Moving air is wind. Wind is caused by warm air rising over cool air. Children cannot see the wind, but they know when its a windy day. Wind makes things move. Young children have some difficulty understanding how the wind produces electrical power and other things, but they can experiment with catching the wind and observe the effects.

• Make a couple of parachutes to take outside. Take a piece of lightweight cloth or a piece of plastic bag about 12 inches square. Punch a small hole in the center of the cloth and in each corner. Tie a string to each corner of the cloth. Tie all four strings together near their free ends. Fasten a small weight—a metal washer—to the free ends of the string.
• Once outside, show the children how to fold the parachute by holding the center and rolling it toward the strings. Then wrap the strings around the cloth. Have the children toss the parachutes into the air as high as they can.
• After children find out what they can do with the parachutes, try these experiments.
• Who can toss the parachute the highest?
• How far do parachutes fly?
• How many times can they jump on both feet before a parachute hits the ground?
• Ask children to look at the parachutes and describe how one looks when it is first tossed in the air, when it fills with air, and when it falls to the ground. Back in the classroom, ask children to draw themselves tossing parachutes in the air (Seefeldt & Galper, 2000).
• Make or obtain pinwheels. For directions on making a pinwheels, and a pinwheel pattern, go to janbrett.com. Young children haven’t the muscle coordination to do this, but will enjoy playing with the pinwheels outside in the wind.
• Obtain a few kites and take turns flying these on a windy day. As you do so, talk about how the wind feels as it tugs the kite high in the sky.
• Read M. Rey’s Curious George Flies a Kite.

Vibrations

• A group of children’s toys make sounds. The sounds are usually caused by vibrating, which in turn causes the air to vibrate. Observe toys that make sounds and try to discover the source of the sounds.
• Make rattles. Give each child two clear plastic glasses. Have them place a couple of sound makers (beads, seeds, pebbles) in the bottom of one glass. Help children tape the two glasses together to form a rattle. As children watch the objects move and make sounds as they move in the rattle, ask children to speculate on what makes the sounds.
• Beat a drum. While doing so, ask children to lightly place their hands on the drum top so they can feel the vibrations. Sprinkle some seeds on the top of the drum. As children beat the drum, the seeds will dance from the vibrations of the drumhead. Have them speculate on why the seeds move. You do not need to lecture or tell children what is happening; all you want is for them to observe and question.
• Invite an older student to play a string instrument for the children. Perhaps a student who plays a guitar or violin would volunteer. Ask the musician to show children how to vibrate the strings of the instrument to make sounds and to let children feel the instrument, and hence the vibrations, as they listen to the sounds produced.
• Read Zin! Zin! Zin!: A Violin by L. Moss. This book presents 10 musical instruments in a playful way.
• Read Max Found Two Sticks by J. B. Pinkney, the story of a boy who makes music by tapping two sticks on his thighs, the bottom of a bucket, and other things to make music. Have children model Max by making music with rhythm sticks. Remind them that sounds are made through vibrations and ask them to feel the vibrations of the sticks.