For Spring Break this past year, we decided to head to the grandparents’ house is New Mexico. There the boys could run outside, play in real snow, and experience some of my own childhood memories. Spending a whole week with my super active first grader trying to keep him entertained, did not sound like a fun idea. So we packed up the car, and headed for some cooler weather, and hopefully snow. Little did I know that our impromptu adventure would give me a chance to teach my first grader about friction!
Learning about Friction while Playing in the Snow
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Once we finally arrived at my parents’ house, my oldest two and husband got their snow gear on and headed outside! My parents had two sleds and a toboggan for them to play with. My husband created a path for the three of them, and for the next hour they all 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.
Conversation between me and my son:
I asked him if he knew why he wasn’t going down the hill.
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.
Me: Right! What about on the snow next to the track. Is the Friction Factor big or little there?
Me: Right! Because you don’t move at all.
He then decided to join me in making a snowman. After a few failed attempts at making big 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.
Next time you’re sledding with your kids, use it as an opportunity to teach them about friction!
Try some of these other great Snow and Ice Science Experiments with your kids!
Learning about Friction while Playing in the Snow :: From Engineer to Stay at Home Mom
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Snow Density Science Experiment :: Science Kiddo
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