Engineering is a hot topic in education. The all-important E in STEM, engineering is a rapidly growing interest for young learners the umbrella term for many sought-after jobs in the sciences. With such a big reputation, the prospect of teaching engineering can be daunting to many early childhood educators, but when stripped down to its most basic elements, engineering is easy. Take, for example, one of the most important parts of it: motion.
Motion and force are two important building blocks for almost every subsequent category in engineering. Without understanding these basic concepts, building and creating larger projects would be impossible! Therefore, motion and force activities are a great place for teachers to start with their little learners. Here are a couple of fun, creative, easy activities about motion and force from Creative Investigations in Early Engineering and Technology.
Making a Maze Tilt Game
Children will create a small maze that will allow them to tilt a platform to move a ball through the game.
- Loose parts (bolts, nuts, screws, wooden craft sticks, twigs, pipe cleaners, cut straws of varying lengths)
- Sketch paper (or STEM Journals)
- Tape or adhesive
- Small plastic, Styrofoam, or paper tray
- Small rubber balls
- Begin by asking children if they’re ever seen a pinball or a marble maze tilt game. If they have, invite them to talk about their experiences. If not, show them examples and talk about the objective of the game and the movements involved
- If they haven’t played this type of game before, it can be helpful to create an example of the game so they can practice playing before planning their own design
- Encourage the children to sketch out an example of their game before attaching their chosen materials to the tray
- As they look through the loose parts, ask them to consider how they might use the object as part of their maze
- Invite them to consider how the balls might respond to a curved pipe cleaner or a straight craft stick—will it roll straight or move in a curved line? How far will the need to tilt their tray to have the ball move? Do they think the ball will move fast or flow if they tilt the tray just a little?
- Periodically check in with the children during planning and building. Once they complete their built maze, encourage them to invite other children to play their game
Reclaimed Materials Catapult
Children will use reclaimed materials to put together a catapult to change the direction of motion of small objects.
- Wooden craft sticks
- Wooden paint stirrers
- Rubber bands
- Soda bottle lid
- Glue or hot glue
- Pompoms, buttons, and other small materials for launching
- To ensure that each launch is safe, it is best to place a target on the ground—a small basket will work fine—for the children to aim at before launching. Be sure to emphasize that this is a game where children take turns, and every launch is to be aimed at the target only
- Ask the children if they’ve ever heard the word catapult or seen a catapult. Explain that a catapult helps move objects
- Use wooden craft sticks to make a small catapult, or use wooden paint stirrers to make a larger catapult
- Invite a child to count out five craft sticks and stack them on top of each other. Place a rubber band on each end and tighten until the stack holds together tightly
- Next, place one craft stick on top of another and wrap a rubber band around one end. Slide the larger stack of sticks through the open end of the two craft sticks
- Wrap a rubber band around the stack of craft sticks to the open upper craft stick
- Glue the soda bottle lid to the top of the upper craft stick; the lid will serve as a basket to hold the small items to be launched
- Once it is dry, invite the children to come up in pairs to try out the catapult
- Ask one child to hold down the base of the catapult while another child loads and pulls back the top to launch the items
- Talk to the children about the force used to pull back the top of the catapult and how far their objects travel. Encourage children to make predictions on how far their launched objects will travel. Will the building block go farther than the cotton ball? Why do you think that? Let’s try it out