Force – Push and Pull

One of the Next Generation Science Standards for kindergarten is about forces – “compare the effects of different strengths or different directions of pushes and pulls on the motion of an object.” Long ago, I’d written a theoretical lesson plan on Force for children age 3 – 7, but last week was when we finally tried it out in the classroom. Here’s our activities:

Experiments with Force and Motion

Train tracks and balls:

We used “magic tracks” (like these) with golf balls, rubber balls and shooter marbles.

But you could also do this with wooden toy train tracks and marbles.

We added a poster with these questions for teachers / parents to ask:

  • If you don’t touch the ball, does it move or does it stay where it is?
  • If you give a ball a very gentle push, what happens?
  • What if you give the ball a hard push?
  • What if you push it uphill? Or downhill?
  • What happens if you push one ball into one that’s sitting still. What happens if you push two balls toward each other so they crash?

Experiment with Re-Directing Force

We set up ramps with wooden balls and a collection of various wood objects. Tip: any time we have a ball rolling activity on a table, we tape down “bumpers” all around the edges of the table that help keep the balls on the table and not on the floor.

We had a poster with these directions:

  • Roll a ball down the ramp. Where does it end up?
  • Put an object from the basket on a red X. Roll the ball down again.
  • What happens when the ball hits the object?
  • Does the ball knock the object out of the way? Does the ball bounce off the object back toward the ramp? Or does the ball change direction but keep rolling?

Experiment with Friction

We taped down various surfaces – a plastic grid, a rubber non-slip mat, bubble wrap, ceramic tile, a metal pan and a wood tray. (You could also try wax paper, foil, sandpaper, terry cloth towel, contact paper sticky side up). My idea was that kids would roll balls back and forth over surfaces – see where do they roll well. Where do they get stuck? My husband pointed out that to be a true friction experiment it would be better to use a flat surface than a ball so we also added wood blocks they could push around on the surfaces.

What’s Inside?

Use 3 boxes or 3 opaque containers with lids. Fill one with rocks or glass marbles (something heavy), one with dry beans or pasta or corks (medium weight and rattle-y), and one with cotton balls or pompoms (something light and quiet). Leave out a sample of each item. Have children push them around – which takes the most force (hardest push) to move? What is easy to move? What do they think is inside each box?

Sorting Game

Search online and you’ll find LOTS of different games where people created cards to sort into two piles – pictures of people pushing (or objects that are typically pushed) or pictures of people pulling (or objects that are typically pulled. We used one of those.

Arts & Crafts

Take Home Craft: Pop-Up Monsters

We made cardstock monsters, taped them to skewers and inserted them into snow-cone cups. You push up to play monster peekaboo and pull down to hide the monster. Here’s the pop-up puppet tutorial.

Art Process: Dot Markers

We had dot markers at the easel with a sign saying “Push to Paint: Use the dot markers to make art. If you press lightly and quickly, what happens? What if you press down firmly and hold it for a while? What if you push gently while moving it across the paper?”

Art: Painting on the Record Player

We put out the good old record player and some paper plates. The sign said:

  • Put a paper plate on the spindle.
  • Turn the record player on.
  • Use a pipette or eye dropper to pull the paint up from the container and push it out onto the paper. OR
  • Use a paint brush to paint on the plate.
  • If you push gently with the brush, what happens? What if you push hard with the brush?

Sensory Play

Apparatus in the Sensory Bin

I took a cardboard box and cut several flaps. Some I labeled push. Others I tied strings to and labelled pull. We put this in the sensory table with lentils, funnels and scoops. Kids could open doors to fill up the box, then open the box, dump it all out and start over.

Pumps in the Water Table

I had thought about using our pump/siphon or pipettes or turkey basters – anything where you pull the water in and push it out. But my co-teacher thought of these pumps (old shampoo bottles)

We filled them with colored water and put out some plastic cups. Kids pretty much pumped water into the cups, dumped them into the tub and repeated for two hours straight. We had to re-fill the bottles and empty the water table a few times, but it totally captivated several kids.

Large Motor Play

Hunkerhauser (a Tug of War variant)

The ultimate way to experience pulls / force is tug of war. And it’s tremendous fun! Unfortunately, I also remember too many experiences from my childhood of rope burns and of people falling over / getting pulled over and getting hurt. In this variant, you have two children step onto something to balance on (could be two step stools or boards – we had wobbly boards designed just for this activity). Then you hand each child one end of a rope. They try to pull the other person off their balance (get them to step off their object) without making themselves lose their balance and fall off.


We played with toilet paper tubes and a rubber ball. You could use water bottles or whatever you like for pins. Push the ball with enough force that it will knock over the pins.

Sock Skating.

We played with friction by trying to slide around the floor with shoes on, then try again wearing just socks, then try again barefoot. How is it different on the carpet vs. linoleum vs. foam mats?

Slippery Floor or Sticky Floor?

We had kids take turns sitting in cardboard boxes, plastic tubs, on pillows, and so on. We pushed them around the floor – carpet, linoleum, foam mats, and non-skid mats. Which surfaces were low friction pairings (slippery) and which combinations were high friction (sticky).

Group Time

Explaining the Big Ideas

Sit in center of circle. Set down a wooden block. Ask them: is it moving? No, it’s sitting still. It’s what physicists call “an object at rest” and it is probably going to just stay at rest till we do something to it. How could we make it move? Push it? Yep. Now it’s moving… it’s an object in motion. Oh, but it moved away. How would I make it move toward me? Pull it? Yep. When we push on something or pull on something we call that using force. A push or a pull is a force and it makes things move. Now if I just push a tiny bit will it move a short way or a long way? What if I push hard? The more force you use, the further and faster it will travel. If I push it on the rough carpet will it go as far as when I push it on the smooth pan? There is friction between the carpet and the car and that slows it down. If we push it into another block what happens? What if we crash two blocks head on?


I was inspired by a song from Sing Science that was set to the Row Row Your Boat tune, but wrote my own words (with my hubby’s help).

Push pull push and pull. Try and you will see. Objects move with a push or a pull or you can leave them be . /// Push pull push and pull. Push lightly, just a nudge. See how little force you need to get something to budge // Push pull push and pull. Push hard and you will see. The harder you push the further it goes at high velocity /// Push pull push and pull. Toward where you want to go. If that’s the only force applied you’ll get there fast or slow


We read in opening circle: Move It by Mason because we are using two other Primary Physical Science books by her in this class and they’re all excellent. They alternate pages about the concepts being explained with simple experiments you can use to learn that topic. (When we read it aloud we skip those pages, but we’ve often included similar experiments in our class activities!)

In closing circle, we read Sheep in A Jeep. The book Picture Perfect Science Lessons: Using Children’s Books to Guide Inquiry uses this book as the basis for their lesson on Forces. You can get ideas for how this book can be used in this lesson by watching; or

For lots of the science topics we cover, there are very few good children’s books. But luckily there’s lots of good options here:

Newton and Me by Mayer does a really nice job of illustrating the key concepts of force while talking about the daily activities of a boy and his dog. Oscar and the Cricket by Waring is also an engaging non-fiction with a story. Cece Loves Science: Push and Pull by Derting is really charming and has some ideas related to push and pull, but I think it’s better for learning about chain reactions or Rube Goldbergs. The other books shown in the image are also all good solid non-fiction books on this topic for kids around age 5.

This post contains Amazon affiliate links – if you click on these and then buy something, I get a small cut of the proceeds.

One comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s