For many parents, the idea of teaching a preschooler or kindergartner about forces seems ridiculous. But believe it or not, many kids are being introduced to forces as early as kindergarten. Sure, they’re not going into complicated force equations, and teaching them the difference between gravitational and friction forces, but the concept of big and small forces is introduced fairly early in grade school. Once I was aware my son had already learned what a force was, I looked for ways to affirm the concept to him in a fun way. A trip to the splash park gave me the perfect opportunity!
Today my oldest son had the day off from school, which meant I needed to find a way for us to be out of the house for most of the day. The day was nice, mostly sunny, so I decided we’d head to the park to have lunch, and let the boys play in the splash pad.
When we got to the park, both boys ran straight for the splash pad, screaming at the top of their lungs the entire way there. You can definitely tell when we arrive anywhere.
I set myself and the baby up at a nearby picnic table, and settled down to watch the boys play. My oldest son was throwing around his flip flops. Then he took one of his sandals, pushed it down on one of the water jets and let it go. This gave me an idea, and I saw it as an opportunity to talk about forces!
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Me: “What is a force?”
Him: “Its a push or a pull.”
Me: “What is the water doing to the sandal?”
Me: “So its putting a force on the sandal, right?”
He nods yes.
Me: “Which force is bigger? The weight of the sandal, or the force of the water?”
Him: “I don’t know…”
Me: “Push the sandal back down on the jet, then let it go!”
He pushes the sandal down, lets it go, and screams with excitement as the sandal shoots up in the air!
Me: “So let me ask you again, which force is bigger? The weight of the sandal, or the force of the water?”
Him: “The force of the water, because it SHOT the sandal in the air!”
Me: “Right!!!” (I’m getting really excited now)
Next I asked him to bring over a nearby rock.
Me: “Which force is bigger? The weight of the rock, or the force of the water?”
Him: “I don’t know…”
Me: “Do what you did with the sandal. Put the rock on top of the jets, and lets see what happens.”
He places the rock over the jets, then lets go!
Nothing happens. He’s kind of disappointed.
Me: “What happened?”
Him: “Nothing. The rock just stayed on top of the water.”
Me: “So what does that mean about the weight of the rock? Is it bigger or smaller than the force of the water jets?”
You can see the light turn on in his head, “Bigger!”
Me: “Right! Since the rock wasn’t moved by the water, its weight is greater than the force of the water!”
And then he ran off to play with his brother.
Teaching engineering does not have to be complicated. You just need to find opportunities in everyday life to talk about the basic principles. Everything is easier to learn when you can see it used in real life, instead in just a theoretical lesson in a book.
If you’re not sure how to introduce the concepts of forces to your child, see my post “10 Books that Inspire Kids to be Engineers“. In the post I suggest a book that introduces and explains the basic principles behind forces.
And that is just another way that Engineering is child’s play!
Looking for other ways to introduce you kids to engineering? Check out some of my other posts!
Tinker Crate: Circuits and Optics
Teach Your Kid to be a Reliability Engineer!
Teach Your Kid to be a Mechanical Engineer!
Teach Your Kid to be a Project Engineer!
Be a Process Engineer: Play “How’s it Made?”
Exploring Energy: How are Height and Distance Related?
An Explosive View of a Dinosaur
10 Books that Inspire Kids to be Engineers
Toys that Teach Engineering