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From Kid to Mini Engineer: Making Mini Zip Lines

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Zip line−two words that bring the thought of summer and fun into the minds of children and adults. The thought of carelessly flying down a hill while the wind pushes against your face and twirls your hair is a thought that would make anyone want to go back to summer camp, strap into a harness, and zip down from the top of a mountain, tree, or wooden tower. Zip lines are a summer favorite among children, so why not teach them how zip lines work while they create and play with their own mini one?

This activity allows children to act as engineers by challenging their creativity and critical-thinking skills. More activities that give children the chance to step into roles involving science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics, can be found in Marnie Forestieri and Debby Mitchell’s book Simple STEAM

Talk Like Engineers!

Construct−build or erect something (typically a building, road, or machine)

Engineer−a person who designs or builds a machine or structure

Friction−the resistance of motion when one object rubs against the other; in this case, the resistance of the carabiner or the bucket handle rubbing against the rope

Gravity−a force that pulls things toward Earth; in this case, it causes the car to go down the ramp

Inclined plane−a sloping ramp that makes it easier to move things up or down; in this case, an angled zip line

Load−the weight of an object

What You Need:

  • String/rope
  • Scissors
  • A high and low area to attach strong/rope
  • Carabiner
  • Empty paint bucket
  • Weighted items (rock, toy)
  • STEAM journal

How to Do It:

  1. Show your child a picture of a zip line if she has never seen one. Discuss how gravity pulls anything on a zip line from a high level to a low level.

  2. Collaborate with your child to build a zip line with a bucket that can transport materials from a high point to a low point. Tie your rope to an object at a high level. Tie a big knot or tie a small tree branch on the rope at a high level to “hold” your container or keep it from sliding down the rope.

  3. Place the carabiner or bucket handle through the rope.

  4. Tie off your rope at an angle and at a low level.

  5. Try putting a rock into the bucket and releasing it down the zip line.

  6. Encourage your child’s curiosity: Does the heavier rock move faster or slower than your regular rock?

  7. Encourage your child’s critical-thinking skills: What can you tell me about gravity and your zip line?

Predict and Hypothesize:

Use this activity to problem solve with your child.  Ask them: I wonder what would happen if we use a block (pen, army man, doll) in the bucket to go down the zip line. Predict and hypothesize the answer to the question. Test the hypothesis and record what you discover.

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