Learning about Friction while Playing in the Snow 6

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Friction in the snow

This past week was Spring Break for my oldest boy. As I faced a week trying to keep my super active first grader entertained, my husband and I decide to instead head to the grandparents’ house in New Mexico.  The boys could run outside, and play in real snow (not the poor excuse for snow we get in Texas).  So we packed the kids (and their stuff) into the car, and headed out for the 12 hour journey.

Once we finally go there, my oldest two and husband got their snow gear on and headed outside!  My parents already head two sleds and a toboggan for them to play with.  My husband created a path for them, and for the next hour all three of them played in the snow.  Most of that day, and the next, they spent racing down the hill full of snow.

In the afternoon, my husband decided to take a break.  Since my oldest wanted to keep playing, I put on my snow gear and joined him outside.  We decided to build a snowman, but as we started, we weren’t having much luck.  Eventually my son got bored, and went off to do something more interesting.  As I tried (unsuccessfully) to build a snowman, I glanced over and saw the funniest thing.  My son was on his belly sliding down the track his dad had made the day before!  I couldn’t help but laugh!

And then I got an idea!  I asked him to slide down on his belly one more time.  He willingly obliged.  Then I told him to try to slide down the hill, but this time on the snow next to the track.  He sat down next to the top of the track, and then laid down on his belly.  And then….nothing.  He didn’t slide down the hill.  Not even an inch.

I asked him if he knew why he wasn’t going down the hill.

Son:  No.

Me:  Because of Friction.

Son:  What’s friction?

Me:  A force that stops you from sliding.  The smaller the Friction Force, the more you can slide, but if the Friction Force is big, its harder to slide.  Friction Force is determined by your weight and a Friction Factor.  So let me ask you a question.  Is the Friction Factor big or little on the track.

Son:  Little?

Me: Right!  What about on the snow next to the track.  Is the Friction Factor big or little there?

Son:  Big!

Me:  Right!  Because you don’t move at all.

Son: Right!

He then decided to join me in making a snowman.  After a few failed attempts at making large enough snowballs for the body and head, we both decided to give up on making a snowman and go back inside.

I’m starting to realize that its easier to teach physics and engineering concepts while playing with my son, instead of reading books about the concept.  I had previously read him a book about forces, that included a section specifically about frictional forces, but the concept didn’t really stick.  But just a few days after teaching my son about friction while playing in the snow, he remembered and APPLIED the concept in a completely different situation a few days later.

Looking other ways to teach your kids about physics and engineering?  Read some of my other posts about how I’m teaching my son!
Teach your child Newton’s First Law of Motion
Tinker Crate: Exploring Polymers
Circular Motion with Star Wars
Tinker Crate: Circuits and Optics
Teach your kid to be a Materials Engineer
Teach your kid to be a Project Engineer
Teach your kid to be a Reliability Engineer
Teach your kid to be a Mechanical Engineer
Be a Process Engineer: Play “How’s it Made?”
Learn about Forces at the Splash Park!
Exploring Energy: How Are Height and Distance Related?
An Explosive View of a Dinosaur!

Two Tiny Hands

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