Learning science can be a fun activity for people of all ages. The best way to learn matters of science is usually through hands-on experiments and discoveries. Going outside can lead to a world of scientific discoveries. Collecting rocks can be a great way to learn about minerals, witnessing the changes of leaf colors during autumn can lead to an exploration of pigmentation, and seeing shadows can become a lesson in light. All of these activities can be done outside and even on playgrounds, which will ensure a fun and exciting science lesson. Playground equipment can even be incorporated into learning about science, such as using swing sets to learn about pendulums and slides to learn about gravity.
Pendulums are objects that are hung from a secured, fixed point, yet are still able to swing back and forth freely under gravity's influence. Pendulums can be found in many places, but the easiest type of pendulum for people to identify is the weighted, swinging pendulum found inside of grandfather clocks. Although clocks allow people to see how pendulums swing back and forth, they do not allow hands-on experiments. The easiest way to learn about pendulums and gravity is to experiment with familiar objects. Playground equipment usually always has one or two examples of pendulums. Swings and tether balls are fun ways to learn about how pendulums work and how they are affected by other factors.
Ramps are familiar to most people; some of the most common are wheelchair ramps, which are built to make it easier for handicapped people to get into buildings with staircases. Ramps are objects that are built on a slope with two different levels. These ramps can be a great way to learn scientific concepts, such as force and motion. Sliding boards are a good example of a ramp on the playground. Objects of different shapes and sizes can be rolled down the sliding board to see the effects of force and motion.
A lever is a bar or rod that is used to create force to help eliminate friction and resistance. Levers are fairly common and can be found in objects such as hammers, wheelbarrows, and nutcrackers. On the playground, the best way to explore the use of simple levers is to use a seesaw. Seesaws have a simple lever in the middle of the seesaw that helps to stabilize one side of the seesaw and destabilize the other, which is what gives the seesaw motion.
There are many types of forces in science. Two of the most popular include air resistance, which is a special type of friction that applies when objects are thrown into the air, and applied force, which occurs when a person or object applies force to another person or object. Forces can be explored on the playground by throwing balls into the air with little effort and with a lot of effort to see difference the amount of applied force can make. This experiment can also be conducted using the slide to roll an object with little effort and then gradually with more effort.
Gravity is found everywhere on Earth; although it cannot be seen, it is very important. It is an invisible force that is constantly working to pull objects together. Without gravity, people and objects would float up in the air instead of being able to stand on the ground. Gravity also holds the planets in orbit. Examples of gravity are seen every day in life. When a person jumps, they always come back down. When a ball is thrown in the air, it comes back to the ground. A person sliding down a sliding board is also an example of gravity at work. These examples can easily be demonstrated on the playground.
Friction is another way of saying resistance. It is the measure of how much an object resists against another object. Friction is best demonstrated on the playground by using various types of materials and a sliding board. Some materials will create less friction than others, meaning the speed a person can get down the slide will be impacted when the material is changed.
Balance is the act of evenly distributing weight to stabilize a person or object. There are many ways to experiment with balancing. Scales are usually the most popular way to demonstrate this concept. Each side of the scale is filled with objects of different weights and slowly more objects are added until the weights are even and the scale is balanced. Balance can be demonstrated on playgrounds through the use of seesaws, balance beams, and even swings.
- Teaching and Learning Outdoors: Let's Get Outside! (PDF)
- Science on the Playground
- The Science of Swinging
- Ramps, Force and Motion (PDF)
- Make a Pendulum
- Facts About Gravity
- Learn More About Friction
- Playground Physics
Find more about the author: Kim Hart