Kids love to send cars down ramps! The faster the better, but did you know that this favorite playtime activity is also an awesome science lesson for kids of all ages? Explore ramps, angles, and friction with just a few simple materials. This physics activity is a fun way to introduce friction, ramps, and angles to kids through hands-on play!
Exploring Ramps, Angles, and Friction
- Materials to make ramps; you can use cardboard or wood planks!
- Variety of toy cars
- Variety of textured materials to create friction – There are so many ideas! We used a hand towel, sandpaper, and rubber grippy mats. You could also use foil or parchment paper, a piece of rug, or even dirt.
- Tape to secure materials if necessary so they do not slip off the ramps
- Stopwatch and measuring tape. These are optional but a fun way to extend the activity and encourage making predictions.
Ramps and Friction Activity Set Up
Determine how many materials you want to test and how many ramps you want to have available. This is fun inside or outside! Leave one ramp free of materials as a test ramp. Secure your materials to the other ramps as needed. Determine how you will set up the ramps. We used stairs, but you can also stack books. Gather your cars and kids!
Ramps and Friction Science Activity Play and Learning
Allow your kids to explore the bare ramp as they wish. They are going to be super excited to play, so it is often best to let them explore the activity freely for a bit first! You can also test out angles at this point. Which ramp angles are faster or slower? Which cars move faster? Heavier, lighter, longer, or shorter cars move at different speeds. This is a great way to get them thinking about the way things move!
Note: You may want to split this activity into two learning times since exploring the ramps is great fun all in itself and is still a simple physics lesson.
When the kids are ready, move on to your textured ramps. Let the kids feel the textures and describe them to you. This is a great time to introduce the term “friction” if you would like! Read a little bit about friction below and keep it simple for young kids!
Ask lots of questions! Before they test out the cars, invite the kids guess which texture might slow down the car or speed it up as it goes down the ramp. Make predictions on which cars will go faster or slower. Let the kids race cars down the different ramps. If appropriate, you can use a measuring tape to see how far the cars travel off the ramp. Which car goes the farthest? Which car is the slowest? Which car crashes, falls off the ramp, or doesn’t make it to the end?
What is Friction?
Young kids learn by exploring, observing, and figuring out the way things work by experimenting. Exploring ramps and friction encourages all of the above. Kids will learn that friction can be two surfaces rubbing against one another. We experience this when we rub our hands together when they are cold. Friction is also the resistance an object meets when moving over another surface. The materials you attached to the ramps changed the surface of the ramp. The different cars will experience different amounts of friction when going down these ramps causing the cars to speed up or slow down some.
Simple STEM activities like this ramps and friction experiment are a wonderful way to get kids thinking, exploring, problem solving, and observing what is happening around them. There are many ways you can explore ramps, angles, slopes, and friction. Get creative with the supplies you have on hand and you can set up this science activity today!
BIO: Sarah is the creator of Little Bins for Little Hands where she shares simple science experiments, STEM activities, and tactile sensory play recipes. She is also the proud mom of a busy little boy. Check out their favorite science experiments and STEM projects all year long! You can connect with her on Facebook and Pinterest.
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