Ramps for All Ages!
One of the first simple machines kids learn about in physics class is the ramp. Experimenting with ramps provides opportunities to learn about all sorts of elements of movement and can be adapted for almost any age. You can create a ramp with many different materials you surely have at home.
Very young children can explore how the angle of a ramp affects the speed at which an object travels down it. You can create a simple ramp by taping a piece of cardboard onto a box, chair, or table. Drive toy cars down the ramp and see what happens.
Change the steepness of the ramp by attaching it to something else. What happens to the cars now? You may need to place something like pillows under the ramp to support it if you’re using heavy toys.
You can also explore how objects of different sizes and weights travel down the same ramp. Collect different balls and try racing them down a ramp. Do heavier objects reach the ground first? Which ball rolls farthest along the ground once it’s left the ramp? (Notice that you can make your ramp out of nearly any flat object you have! This one is an old piece of shelving.)
Another fun ramp material are cardboard tubes. You can create racetracks and send matchbox cars or marbles down them. Feel free to conserve cardboard by using only half of the tube at a time. Older children can discuss ideas such as velocity and trajectory and how they are affected by changes in the angles of their tubes.
You can create curves in your cardboard tracks by cutting horizontally into the tube and overlapping the cardboard at an angle. You could explore how well a car or marble stays on the track with curves of varying severities. Older children could use this as a tool to learn about centrifugal force as they design their curves.
Want to learn more about ramps? Check out the following e-books, all of which are available with no wait on Hoopla!
Inclined Plane, Grades 1-3 by Jeff Barger
Isaac Newton and Physics for Kids by Kerrie Logan Hollihan
Working with Inclined Planes by Ronald Machut
Ramps by Kay Manolis
Inclined Planes by Joanne Mattern
Inclined Planes by Katie Marsico and Reginald Butler