Books about Simple Machines

img_20151013_163855105This post focuses on book recommendations. To see lesson plans for hands-on activities and demonstrations for each individual machine, click here: Inclined Planes, Pulleys, Wedges, Levers, Screws, Wheels & Axles. Here’s an Overview of Simple Machines.

Overviews. There are several books that give an overview of all the simple machines.

  • How Do You Lift a Lion? by Wells is my favorite book. It poses fun questions with silly illustrations, then does a nice job of describing the basic concepts of how the machines work. Covers levers (for lifting lions), wheels and axles (for pulling pandas on pallets) and pulleys (to deliver a big basket of bananas to a baboon birthday). You could read it all at once, or divide it up into three parts and read at different times as you cover each machine. Good circle time read. The vocabulary is a little high level, but the pictures are clear illustrations, so our 5 – 7 year olds were able to follow the science of it. Our 3 – 4 year olds didn’t get the science, but they liked the book anyway.
  • Move It! Work It! from the Science Songs series, sets a song about simple machines to the tune of Kookaburra. (Hear it: There are also additional facts about each machine on each page. The song is not a great work of art, but if you wanted to include a song in the unit, it does a decent job of capturing the ideas about simple machines.
  • Simple Machines by Allan Fowler is a good overview, with nice basic descriptions and examples, and it’s an appropriate length for circle time. Not as fun as Lion…
  • Simple Machines: Wheels, Levers and Pulleys by Adler is for ages 5 – 7. Nice illustrations, good examples of simple machines in everyday life, and good explanations. But too high level for our class.
  • Lever, Screw, and Inclined Plane by Thompson. Good descriptions, great pictures from National Geographic. But… it’s for ages 6 – 9, and too high level/too long for us to read in class. It could be helpful for an adult to skim through before class – I find it’s helpful if you have fresh in your head information that’s just a little more advanced / detailed than you might cover with your students – it helps you answer questions that may come up.
  • Smash!: Wile E. Coyote Experiments with Simple Machines is NOT a circle time read. It’s aimed at 8 to 12-year-olds, and would be over the head of most 3 to 7-year-olds in my class. On the other hand, the Wile E. Coyote character is appealing enough that my almost-5-year-old (who is a strong reader and has read LOTS of books on simple machines) really enjoys this book even if he doesn’t fully grasp it and enjoys then watching Roadrunner cartoons and talking about the science in them.
  • Simple Machines by Deborah Hodge. Photos and descriptions of lots of easy activities related to simple machines. Nice little descriptions of the science behind each one. Good source of ideas for teachers/parents, but not something I’d read in class, or put on the shelf, just because I find that if I put out books of activity ideas, the kids want to try them all right now.

Series Books about Simple Machines

There are several series which include 6 books each, one for each machine. I will summarize my impressions of the series, based on the books I read (I have read one or more from each series, but not all 6 of any series.) Here are the four criteria I ranked them on:

  • Pictures: Are they good photos (current, focused, visually appealing) of things that are interesting to kids?
  • Words: Would this be a good read-aloud book for a group of 3 – 6 year olds? Easy to understand and interesting to listen to?
  • Big Idea: Does it get, and adequately convey the key concepts about this simple machine and how it works? (For my summary of what I think those key concepts are, see my posts on each of the types of Simple Machines – linked at top of post.)
  • Examples: Are there several good examples of the machine that would be interesting to children? (But I don’t want examples of every single way this simple machine can be applied, because too many diverse examples could make it hard for a young child to remember the big picture.)

I honestly haven’t found any one series that I think is the absolute best, so I get some books from each of the series to share with my class. If I didn’t have access to a fabulous library system and had to buy just one series of books, I might choose the How Toys Work by Smith or the “Vs.” series by Schuh for my class of 3 – 6 year olds. This list is in approximate order of age appropriateness, so if you’re teaching elementary school, start at the bottom.

  • First Step Non-Fiction: Simple Machines to the Rescue by Schuh. (OK, it’s really confusing that this series is titled Simple Machines to the Rescue, just like the series by Dahl. I call this the “Vs.” series.) Titles include Making a Salad: Wedge vs. Inclined Plane and Hauling a Pumpkin: Wheels and Axles vs. Lever, Raising a Bag of Toys: Pulley vs. Inclined Plane and three others. For ages 4 – 7. They present a challenge kids can relate to that could be solved with a simple machine. Two people who are working together suggest two different machines. We learn about each, and they try using each. Sometimes one is better than the other, but often we see the benefits of using both. They do a good basic job of describing each machine and giving examples beyond what is covered in the story. What I like: engaging photos, engaging story line of finding a problem and working together using tools to solve it. Because we are a parent-child class, I especially like that some of the books are about parents and kids working together, and that often the kid has a great idea the parent hadn’t thought of. Although I love this concept of comparing and contrasting two machines, I think it would be helpful for kids to also read books that focus on just a single machine in detail. Note: this book series has a companion teaching guide, which is aligned with Next Generation Science and Common Core state standards, and offers a lesson plan and hands-on activities for each of the simple machines. You can download the teaching guide at
  • How Toys Work by Smith. 4 – 6 years. Titles: Ramps and Wedges, Pulleys, Levers, Screws, Nuts and Bolts, Wheels and Axles. Nice series – shows photos of toys, talks about the “tool” that is the theme of the book – how it works, what it does, and gives more examples of toys that use it. Very age appropriate non-fiction with a playful / colorful look. In some books (Pulley and Screws) the big idea is explained well. But others (Ramps, Wheels) will not give a solid understanding of the concept of the simple machine. I would use these books to engage my younger students, but also share some of the other series with my older students to better explain the concepts.
  • Blastoff Readers: Simple Machines. Author: Manolis. Books: Ramps; Levers; Pulleys; Screws; Wedges; Wheels and Axles. These would be my top choice if I had only 5 – 7 year olds, but they’re a little long and too sophisticated for my little ones. Bright colors and engaging pictures. Good diagrams and descriptions of key concepts – very clear. Nice examples.
  • Useful Machines by Oxlade.  Books: Ramps and Wedges; Levers; Pulleys; Screws*; Wheels.  Review: Good pictures, engaging and easy to understand for 5 – 7 year olds. I have only read the screw book, but I like it a lot. However, I would not use it as the intro to screws. Once kids had a solid grasp of the basics of screws, it does a nice job of giving examples of all the different applications
  • Simple Machines by Bodden. Age 5 – 7. Books: Inclined Planes, Pulleys, Levers, Wedges, Screws, Wheels & Axles. Explains the machine, talks about how it makes work easier, shows a little history and modern examples of its use. It’s OK for this age group… a little dry and the graphic design is kind of stodgy looking. (Really lovely from an adult perspective… just not very kid appealing.) In general concepts are very clear and easy to understand and examples clearly illustrate the ideas. But, I thought the screw book was unclear and jumbled examples together that it wasn’t clear how they related. We used several of these books in our circle times in class, but tried to balance with How Toys Work, which are brighter and more fun.
  • Simple Machines by Tieck. Age 6 – 9. Inclined Planes, Pulleys, Levers, Wedges, Screws, Wheels & Axles. Perfectly fine information, good illustrations. Multiple examples of each machine. No activity ideas. Probably the best descriptions of the big idea, but presented in a dry, bland non-fiction style. I didn’t read them in circle, but did have them on the bookshelf for kids who wanted to learn more.
  • Simple Machines by Armentrout  Age 7 – 9. Inclined Planes, Pulleys, Levers, Wedges, Screws, Wheels. Each book talks about simple machines in general and then one machine specifically. Uses photographs of kids using simple machines, which helps it be more accessible / engaging to kids. Photos with labels help to clearly illustrate the tool and the principle. Fine series. In a few books there were so many examples, the big picture could get lost.
  • Amazing Science: Simple Machines by Dahl and Shea. Books: Scoop, Seesaw, and Raise: A Book About Levers; Roll, Slope, and Slide (Inclined Planes); Scoop, Pull, Lift, and Lower (Pulleys); Cut, Chop, and Stop (Wedge); Tires, Spokes, and Sprockets. Book description says they are for 5 – 10 year olds. For 5 – 6 year olds, the illustrations are great and the examples are clear, but I would not read the word as written – I would just paraphrase. I think they’re best for 7 – 8 year olds, as the 9-10 year olds might find the illustrations a little “young.”  The pulley book and inclined book don’t do the best job of explaining key ideas.
  • Early Reader Science: Simple Machines by Dahl.  Books: Ramps and Wedges; Levers; Pulleys; Wheels and Axles.  Review: Pictures OK, but not especially appealing to young ones. Length-wise, it would be OK for circle, but vocabulary a little high level. The Wheels book gives examples of so many different kinds of wheels and axles (steering wheels, gears, sprockets, cranks, cams, etc.) that the basic concept is lost. Does not mention friction. [not available on Amazon, but you may find at library]
  • Simple Machines to the Rescue by Thales. 6 – 9. Inclined Planes to the Rescue, Levers ttR, Pulleys ttR, Screws ttR, Wedges ttR, Wheels and Axles ttR. Focuses on how we use simple machines to solve problems: “it’s snack time and two people want to share one apple. How can they split it into two equal piece? Wedge to the rescue!” Good descriptions, nice examples. Each book ends with a little sample project kids can do. I’m not a fan of the photos and illustrations, and don’t think kids will find them as engaging as pictures in other series. I just find that they do the weakest job of explaining simple machines concepts. For example, in the screw book, their first example is a lid on a soda bottle, then a spiral staircase, then Archimedes screw, then an olive oil press, and then it talks about things that are held together by screws. Nowhere in there does it really describe what a screw is and what type of work each of these tools has in common.
  • My World of Science by Randolph. Books: Inclined Planes in my World; Levers in…; Pulleys in…; Wedges in… ; Wheels and Axles in… [there doesn’t appear to be a Screws book] Pictures are fine; words are appropriate level and the book is a good length for circle time, big idea is explained well, and there are lots of examples, but they all tie together in a clear logical way to the same big idea. It ends with asking “can you think of [wedges] you see around you?” Then offers a picture glossary of key words. This is a reliable, useable, but not exciting series. Note: this series is bilingual English / Spanish. So Wedges in My World is also Cunas en mi mundo. Each page has the text in English first, then Spanish. Book descriptions say age 7 – 10

Simple Machines – Engineering for Kids


We began our year with a unit on Simple Machines. Our goal is to introduce the basic concepts, give them lots of hands-on exploration of the principles, and encourage them to look for simple machines in their world.

Big Idea about Simple Machines

A simple machine is a machine with few moving parts, or no moving parts.

The big idea behind simple machines is they make it easier to do work. (They may reduce the amount of work it takes, or they may change the direction of the force you apply – which can make it feel easier to do the work.) But the more inspiring way to describe this to a young child is to say something like “do you wish you could lift heavy things like mommy/daddy does? Simple machines can help you do that. Doing things the smart way makes you stronger.”

This post includes resources that are helpful for a full unit on Simple Machines. To see lesson plans for activities and circle time demonstrations / books for each individual machine, click here: Inclined Planes, Pulleys, Wedges, Levers, Screws, Wheels & Axles

What is force? What is work?

In scientific terms, work is using a force to move an object. If you use force and nothing moves (like if you pushed on a brick wall), that’s not work. Pushing, pulling, and lifting are all “work.”

Note: although we didn’t do it in our class, it could be a good idea to first introduce the idea of “force” and how to measure how much work it takes to do something. Some books about force I would recommend are Forces Make Things Move, And Everyone Shouted, “Pull!”, and Move It!: Motion, Forces and You. (Note: Amazon says Forces Make Things Move is for ages 4 – 8, but I think there are far too many words for us to use it in a groups circle in a classroom setting with this age group.) Here are some additional ideas for how to teach about force, from Mrs. MyersTeach Junkie and iijuan12.

Books about Simple Machines

There are LOTS of books on simple machines, so many that I have a separate post all about Simple Machine Books. Check it out for details on them all.

I get all my class books from the library, so I get lots. If I had to buy on a limited budget, my top choices for my class of 3 – 6 year olds would be: How Do You Lift a Lion? by Wells, Move It! Work It! by Salas, the Simple Machines to the Rescue series by Schuh (note: this is the series with titles including the word “vs.” such as Raising a Bag of Toys: Pulley vs. Inclined Plane, NOT the series by Dahl with titles like “Levers to the Rescue” – that series is fine, but I’m not a big fan) and maybe the How Toys Work series by Smith.

For 6 – 9 year olds, I’d opt for Simple Machines series by Armentrout or Simple Machines by Tieck. Again, check out the other post for all the details.

Songs about Simple Machines

In our class, we’re using Simple Machines by David Newman: find the song and lyrics here:

Other options are:

  • Move It Work It from Capstone kids (see companion book above) which is to the tune of Kookaburra. Find the song here.
  • the Simple Machines song from Hubpages unit on simple machines. It’s done to the tune of Yankee Doodle. Find it here.

Videos about Simple Machines

Note: some parents prefer not to expose their kids to screen time – if that’s you, then skip the recommendations on videos and apps. There’s nothing your child can learn from them that they can’t learn from books, discussions, and hands-on experiences.

I like videos that can display simple machines in action, and describe the concepts while you’re viewing an example. There are several good ones on individual machines – just search YouTube. Here are my favorite overviews.

  • Bill Nye the Science Guy – Simple Machines   Best for ages 5 – 10, although my guy has liked Bill since he was 3. About 20 minutes long.
  • Sid the Science Kid. They did a fabulous series on simple machines. Sid is aimed at preschoolers and is set at a preschool, so very appealing and easy to understand for a 3 – 6 year old. There’s The Broken Wheel (Wheels & Axles); My Slide (Inclined Plane), Sid’s Amazing Invention (Lever), the Tree House (Pulleys) and Climb, Ignatz (summary of the series.) They’re available streaming on Netflix, or can be rented on Amazon (they’re listed under season 2 of Sid.) Each episode is 23 minutes, although some of that is filler (theme songs, etc.) that we tend to skip past.
  • Physical Science for Children: All About Simple Machines. 20 minute overview.
  • This is a nice 3-minute summary for adults about the concept, but it goes by too fast for young kids:

Games and Apps:

There’s a couple of online computer games you could play with your child that teach about simple machines.
  • “Twitch” is a fun online game, but you’d need to play with them and narrate their way through it to help them understand it better.
  • is also a fun online game. Best used as a review, after your child has learned all about Simple Machines.
  • There is an app called Simple Machines on ITunes, but I have not played it.
  • I like the app “Pettson’s Inventions“, available on Android, Kindle, and ITunes. The same folks also do Inventioneers, which is free and a little easier to play. In both, you assemble Rube Goldberg type devices to do simple tasks – you drop an apple on the character’s head, he turns on his blower, which turns a fan, which moves a gear, which knocks the basketball off the platform onto the seesaw and into the basket. You usually don’t get the answer right on the first try – you set up part of the process, press play to test it, adjust it, test it again, set up the next part of the process, test that, adjust it, and so on. Talk it all through with your child. Tell them what you’re trying and why. Ask them why something didn’t work and what you can do differently. It’s definitely a learning process which requires lots of tinkering.. A 6 or 7 year old might be able to play it alone if you play the first few levels with them to give them the basic concept. With a 4 or 5 year old you’d need to play it all the way through with them once, then they could probably do it on their own.
Here are my posts including activities and curricular ideas for each of the individual machines: Inclined Planes, Pulleys, Wedges, Levers, Screws, Wheels & Axles

Note: All the activities described in my posts are from Family Inventor’s Lab, a parent-child cooperative class in Bellevue, WA. We are a play-based, STEM focused class for preschool through early elementary (kids age 3 – 7). We do a wide variety of fun, hands-on activities to learn about Science, Tools, Engineering, Nature, and Art. We also sing songs and read stories. Most of our activities are cheap, easy, and use everyday materials that most families would have in their homes (or their recycle bins!), so that our activities are appropriate for classroom teachers, parents who homeschool, or after school programs.

Wheels and Axles – Simple Machines Activities for Kids


During our Simple Machines unit, our final unit was on Wheels and Axles.

Free play: We pulled out our whole collection of toy trains and wooden tracks, and let them assemble tracks that trailed all over the room. (You could also put out cars and car tracks.) Some kids (generally boys) will gravitate to this activity and stay there the whole class…)

We got these great wheels that can be attached to any cardboard box. They’re really well built and easy for a small child to use. And any time you’re done with a box creation, you can take off the wheels and save them for the next time. We had one box with wheels, and one box that was the same size without wheels. Kids could load them up and see which one was easier to move.


We also had wooden dowels, and a basket – kids could load up the basket and roll it back and forth on the dowels.

Building: LOTS of building toys include ways to make wheels and axles: Duplos/Legos, Tinkertoys, K’NEX, and so on. Put these out for free play.

Observation: Encourage children to find all the wheels they can in and about the classroom (toy cars and trains, trikes, bikes, door knobs, and so on.) Encourage them to notice how the wheels work. One thing to notice is that with some things, the axle is fixed to the wheels and rotates with the wheels. But, in other cases, the axle is stationary and the wheels rotate around it (e.g. a skateboard).

Exploration: This post focuses on showing the difference between how balls roll and how wheels roll by making a set up wheels and axle from a Styrofoam ball:

Product-based art – Spinners: We made game spinners. We punched a hole through the center of  paper plates, and a hole in the center of popsicle sticks. Kids decorated the plates however they wanted to. We took a brad (paper fastener), threaded it through the stick, then a washer, then the plate. We spread out the arms of the brad on the other side of the plate, and taped them in place. Poof – it’s a spinner. (The stick is the “wheel” rotating on the brad axle.)



Craft – Tops. We made tops with dowels and wooden circles. If you don’t have wooden disks, you could use cardboard. Kids could decorate if they chose, and then play with for as long as they wanted to. (I have to be honest… I’m not sure if tops count as simple machines – are they wheels on axles? screws? neither?)


Craft – Pinwheels. Last year, we made pinwheels – learn about them here.

Art – Paint with wheels! You could use paint rollers, or a massage tool on wheels, or toy cars, or toy trains to paint with.

Gears – this is also a great opportunity to bring in gears… We’ll use the ones from a Delta Science Modules kit we inherited.


Building Sets: Some fun gear building sets include Gears! Gears! Gears!Quercetti Kaleido Gears and Gearation Refrigerator Magnets.

marbleocitySkate Park: Fat Brain Toys sells this great Marbleocity “Skate Park.” This kit is definitely something that an adult needs to build (or a patient and cautious older kid.) But, once it’s built, it’s very cool for kids to play with – they turn the crank, which turns the gears, which launches the ball. If kids are careful, it’s fine. However, they NEED to be taught what to do if it jams. If a marble jams just a bit, they need to back it up (i.e. turn the crank a little the other way) to unjam it, then move it forward. If they try to force it forward, it WILL break the crank. As we learned at the beginning of our morning class, when one of our older and pretty careful kids was playing with this. I’ve repaired it now, and will use it next year as a demo where we can show kids how to handle jams carefully. The one thing I wish were different about this kit… it does not use standard size marbles, but instead uses specialized mini marbles. I’m hoping it’s possible to find replacement marbles somewhere if needed, but I haven’t found them yet.

Toy: We also put out this cool Duplo top launcher, already assembled, plus dirIMG_20160802_173512786ections on how to build it, so kids had the option of taking it apart and re-building it. (None took that option.) This is a REALLY cool toy. But, the motor skills required to launch a top were more than any of our 5 and under kids could really manage.

Water table and sensory table: We have water wheels they were able to play with. It would be really cool to build your own water wheels. Here’s ideas on how to do it:

Song: The Wheels on the Bus, of course! Another option is Bumping Up and Down in My Little Red Wagon, which includes the words “One wheel’s off and the axle’s broken.”

Books: We had several books from series about Simple Machines. We read in circle Pete the Cat: The Wheels on the Bus by Dean and Going Places by Reynolds.

Outdoor time: Bikes, Trikes, and Wagons, oh my!

For a wheels theme, you could obviously do LOTS of activities related to cars. We did a whole week just focused on cars as a complex machine. You could use almost any of these car ideas in a session on wheels.

There’s lots of other great ideas for wheels and axles activities here:

Key concepts of wheels and axles:

When you try to push a load across the ground, there’s a lot of friction that makes it hard to move. The whole surface area of the load is on the ground. When you put the load on wheels, then there’s only friction on the very small part of the wheel that is touching the ground at any given time. Thus, it’s much easier to move a heavy load over a long distance.

A demonstration for Circle Time:

We loaded up a basket with bags of dried beans for weight. We had our 8 year old teaching assistant push it across the ground. Then we showed everyone the rough surface on the bottom of the basket. Then we showed them the smooth bottom of a cardboard box. We placed the basket in the box, and pushed it across the ground. Much easier! Then we talked about friction.

After that, we laid out several short lengths of PVC pipe on the ground and put our box on top of them and showed how much easier it was to move the box back and forth. (Just roll a very short distance back and forth.

Image result for egyptian logs move rocksWe talked about the idea that ancient Egyptians may have used a similar method to move the large stone blocks used to construct the pyramids, and showed them a picture of this process.

We then tried to move the box a long distance on the dowels. The kids discovered that as you do this, the load rolls off of the dowels, and you have to move that lost dowel back to the front of the row over and over.

(Note: I got this demo idea from Little Blast blog, but we worked on a carpeted floor instead of hardwood, so there’s lots of friction. We used a basket instead of a smooth box – again, this increases the friction so better illustrates the benefit of the dowels. There’s also a nice post here on using a brick and pencils to illustrate this concept.)

One child got the idea of taping the pipes to the bottom of the box. We did, to show why this doesn’t work. (The pipe wheels no longer rotate.)

Then we taught the idea of wheels and axles, and mounting the load on a set of wheels and axles. There’s lots of ways you could do this… We used the wagon from our Simple Machines Set, but you could use any car or wagon to show what wheels and axles are.

Then we placed our basket of beans in a box with wheels on it (see above) and had our assistant pull it all around the room to show how much easier that is to move.

Here’s another great idea for a demo: put a grown-up on a board. Put the board on two scooters or skateboards and push the grown-up around.

Note: All the activities described in my posts are from Family Inventor’s Lab, a parent-child cooperative class in Bellevue, WA. We are a play-based, STEM focused class for preschool through early elementary (kids age 3 – 7). We do a wide variety of fun, hands-on activities to learn about Science, Tools, Engineering, Nature, and Art. We also sing songs and read stories. Most of our activities are cheap, easy, and use everyday materials that most families would have in their homes (or their recycle bins!), so that our activities are appropriate for classroom teachers, parents who homeschool, or after school programs.

Screws – Simple Machines Activities for Kids

Screws - Simple Machines Activities for Kids age 3 - 7During our Simple Machines unit, we learned about screws.

Key concepts of screws – How to Demonstrate and How to Help Kids Experience

  1. A screw is an inclined plane (ramp) wrapped around a central rod.
    1. To illustrate: Show a picture of a very long highway ramp or very long staircase. Talk about how it might be impractical to have such a long ramp, so sometimes they wrap this into a screw shape – show a picture of a spiral parking garage (like at Sea-Tac airport) or a spiral staircase. (Here’s a PDF of the photos I found as an example. I don’t have copyright permission on these, so you should find your own.)wpid-img_20151010_095549692.jpg
    2. Another illustration: Find a picture of a very steep path up a mountain (an inclined plane) and a switchback path (similar to a screw). By wrapping the path back and forth and back and forth, it’s more climbable.
    3. Activity for the kids to experience this concept: cut a triangle of paper. Mark the “ramp” side of the triangle. Roll the paper up around a pencil, and it becomes a screw. (Note: you could use these papers to make paper beads for a necklace.) Also, see snack ideas below.)
  2. A screw takes rotational motion and turns it into vertical motion. When you turn a screw, it moves down or up, depending on which way you turn.
    1. To demonstrate / let kids experience it: take a very long bolt. Spin a nut around it. You can see that the nut travels up and down the bolt. You can give kids a dish of nuts and bolts and have them play with this.
    2. See the toy drill set described below.
    3. Alternate demo / experience: Take a peanut butter jar (or similar jar), and screw the lid on – pointing out how it travels downward, then unscrew it, pointing out how it travels upward. Give children jars and lids to try this out.
  3. Screws hold things together.
    1. To demo: use two boards – hammer a nail through them to attach them. Then pull them apart. Then attach them with a screw. Show how you can no longer pull them apart. (Note: as always, test your demo before class to make sure that it works well with the exact materials you will be using!)
    2. Kids’ experience: See workbench idea below.
  4. A screw can also be used to move things..
    1. Possible illustrations: an Archimedes screw can lift water up hill – one of the earliest water “pump” mechanisms. A grain auger is used to lift grain from trucks into grain silos. When you drill a hole, the drill lifts the cut wood up and out of the hole.
    2. To demo / let kids experience: Use the Archimedes screw or grain auger described below.


Bolts: We had a big bin of these building toys in the classroom – I unfortunately don’t know what they’re called! But, they’re big screws and bolts and plates and cubes and wheels to attach together with the bolts.


Drill: This toy drill set has a battery operated drill driver that allows kids to screw bolts into the board, then reverse direction and pull them back out. Very popular with lots of kids.


Workbench: You could offer boards, screws, and screwdrivers, and let children screw real screws into real boards. (You might need to use a nail to make some pilot holes to get screws started into the wood.) I think this is totally reasonable for kids age 5 and up. For kids 3 to 5, you have to use your judgment. I would do it if I were working one-on-one or in a small group of kids. But in our larger class, we used toy hammers and golf tee “nails”, plastic drywall screws or non-pokey screws and a screwdriver.

If possible: put out some screws with wide threads and some with tight threads. They could see that wide threads take more effort to screw in. Tight threads mean less effort, but you have to rotate it many more times to move the same distance.

Archimedes screw:

Our Simple Machines Activity Set came with a small Archimedes screw. It works really well with a wide variety of materials – I’ve used it with M&M’s, rice, corn meal, and others. I like split peas / lentils best, as they move through it well and are easily cleaned up. In this video, I use water beads, because they’re what I had handy, but I wouldn’t use them in a kids’ activity, because if you’re not careful, the screw will break them up into little bits. I also like this because it’s REALLY easy to clean.

img_20161022_121428967I also found this great toy Grain Auger. It’s really cool and easy for kids to use. BUT it doesn’t work with a wide variety of sensory items. Bigger items jam it, and if kids are careful, they can back it up and unjam it, but most kids just crank it hard in the same direction to try to undo a jam, and I suspect that would break it. Also, in order to clean it, you’ll have to use a screwdriver to completely dismantle it – I haven’t attempted this yet. For class, we used it with cornmeal8480455732_c8f2d2cff7_z. We just put in some containers to fill. Next year, I want to put in a tall cylinder (maybe an oatmeal container) that would be similar to a grain silo, and then post a photo of a real grain auger and silo.


Snack: You could use refrigerated crescent rolls – they come out of the pack as triangles (inclined planes), and you roll them up into screws. You could also make pigs-in-a-blanket, and wrap the ramp (crescent roll) around the rod (hot dog).7

You could also use an Apple Peeler / Corer. These basically involve mounting an apple on the end of a screw, and as you turn it around and around, the screw pushes the apple forward into a blade, peeling it, coring it, and slicing all in one move.

Take Home Challenge: Make your own Archimedes screw: Here are a few possible ways to do that:

Using paper and a plastic bottle: See directions here: and an example here:

Wrapping tubing around a stick or pipe. As in this video: or as shown here:

Here is a paper model of an Archimedes screw: They say it can be used to transport sugar.

Books: Check out my post on Simple Machines book series. I also just learned about a book called Drew the Screw which sounds great. The Amazon description says: “The pencil draws, the tape measures, the saw cuts and the drill makes holes.  Together with the boy, they are building a treehouse.  What can you do? the tools ask Drew. Drew worries that he can t do cool things like the other tools.  But when boy comes for him, Drew is surprised to get a job that’s not only important but just right.”

Note: All the activities described in my posts are from Family Inventor’s Lab, a parent-child cooperative class in Bellevue, WA. We are a play-based, STEM focused class for preschool through early elementary (kids age 3 – 7). We do a wide variety of fun, hands-on activities to learn about Science, Tools, Engineering, Nature, and Art. We also sing songs and read stories. Most of our activities are cheap, easy, and use everyday materials that most families would have in their homes (or their recycle bins!), so that our activities are appropriate for classroom teachers, parents who homeschool, or after school programs.

Levers – Simple Machines Activities for Kids


During our Simple Machines unit, we learned about levers.

Key Concept of Levers:

You place a long bar onto a fulcrum (pivot point). You apply force in one direction, and the pivot point re-directs the force in another direction. To lift the load on one end, you may need the same weight, or more weight or less weight on the other end… all depending on where the fulcrum is.

If you’re working with small kids, stick to that basic point, and skip all the details I’m about to give on classes of levers!

First Class: There are three classes of lever. A first-class lever has the fulcrum in between the effort and the load (e.g. between you and the weight you’re trying to lift). You push down on one end, and the other raises up.

first class

If the fulcrum is in the middle (like on a seesaw or a balance scale), then to lift ten pounds of weight, you’d need to apply ten pounds of force. There’s not a mechanical advantage (i.e. the lever doesn’t let you lift anything heavier than you could normally lift). If you place the fulcrum very close to the load, and have a long bar to press down on, this gives you a mechanical advantage – it makes it easier to lift the load. You might do this if you had a very heavy load to lift, such as using a long lever to pry up a large rock.

first MA

Second class: The load is in between the fulcrum and the effort. The best example is a wheelbarrow. You lift up on one end, and the fulcrum rests on the ground. Another example is a bottle opener where the fulcrum tucks under the edge of the cap, and one end of the bar rests on the cap.

second class

Third class: The effort happens between the load and the fulcrum. “A hammer acts as a third-class lever when it is used to drive in a nail: the fulcrum is the wrist, the effort is applied through the hand, and the load is the resistance of the wood.  Another example of a third-class lever is the human forearm: the fulcrum is the elbow, the effort is applied by the biceps muscle, and the load is in the hand.” (Source)

third class

A Demonstration:

A see-saw is your ideal demonstration. You can put similar size kids on each end, and they see that it balances out. Then you can put an adult on one end, and see how many kids you need to lift the adult. And then you can try having the adult sit near the middle of the beam on their side, and one kid sit all the way at the end on their side and search for the balance point.

If you don’t have a see-saw, can you create one? It may be hard to easily build something strong enough (and safe enough) to lift an adult and kids, but you could lift a basket of books using something as simple as giant tinker toys or a broom handle balanced over something. Or you can use the seesaw from a Simple Machines Set. seeswa

I’ve listed several activities below. I’ve divided them by which class of lever they are. But again, you can ignore the whole idea of different classes of lever and just treat them all as “levers” if that’s better for the age group you’re working with.

First-class lever activities:

See-saw: If you have one on your playground, use it and talk about it!

Balancing Act: We inherited part of the materials from the Delta Science Modules Simple Machines kit, so we’ll be adding in this activity. There are wood fulcrums (blocks that are rounded on the top and have a rough textured material added so the bar doesn’t just slip and slide), bars, plastic cups and bolts for weights. Kids can practice centering the bar and adding weights to each side.


Using a Balance scale to weigh objects: If you have a balance scale, this is a great time to get it out and let the kids experiment. Last year, we put out one with dry beans. This year, it was in the water table. You could also use blocks, counting bears, Unifix cubes or other objects. This is a great math skills practice, as they see that equal numbers of items or equal volume of water balance out – they’re “the same.”


If you don’t have a scale, you could also build one with a variety of materials, including Tinker Toys or K’NEX.


Or you could build a balance with a coat hanger:

Or, with Dixie cups, string, and a popsicle stick…

Building a balance scale:

Materials: jumbo craft sticks with three holes drilled in them. Dixie cups, string or yarn, a pencil or dowel.

  1. Take two cups. Punch two holes in each one.
  2. Tie a string to one hole on a cup, then thread it through the hole on one end of a stick.
  3. Tie the end of the string to the other hole in that cup.
  4. Now, take the second cup. Tie a string on, thread it through the hole on the other end of the stick, tie it to the other hole on the second cup.
  5. Hold the stick on its side, with the cups hanging down. Put a pencil through the middle hole to be your fulcrum.
  6. Put weights in the cups to balance.

IMG_20151024_111035455 diy-balance-scale

Claw hammer: When you use a claw hammer to pull out nails, you’re using it as a first class lever. If you had the kids pound golf tees into something for the wedges lesson, they can use the claw hammer to pull them back out!


Crow bar: Use a crow bar to pry up a heavy load. Or use a stick balanced over a small rock to lift a big rock. Or use a stick balanced over a brick to tip a cinder block over. Or take a pencil, and a ruler and a book: use the pencil as your fulcrum. Put one end of the ruler under the book, and then press down on the other end of the ruler.

Building Activity: We put out this Duplo seesaw kit.

Catapults: Put a pencil on the table (your fulcrum). Balance a popsicle stick over it (your bar). Put a pompon on the lowered end (your load). Strike the other end. The pompon flies into the air. Your kid may repeat for hours. There are lots more catapult ideas in this post.IMG_20151003_094219761 img_20161008_133803330

Second-class levers:

Wheelbarrows: If you have access to a wheelbarrow, they are GREAT toys for outdoor time. Let the kids load them up and move them around.

Bottle opener: Let your child open a bottle of soda with a bottle cap.

Third-class levers:

Human arm: We had paper arms kids could decorate, then cut, then fasten together with a brad to create an elbow joint. Then they used yarn to represent the muscle. You can find a similar activity at


Shovel, rake, or broom: When you use one of these tools, you have one hand at one end, serving as the fulcrum. The other hand is part way down the handle, providing the effort. (You could also use a stick to hit a piñata to demonstrate the force.)

Baseball bat: In addition to helping you lift loads, levers can also be used to speed something up by giving it a push. During outside time, use a baseball bat, or tennis racket, or other tool to demonstrate. Your hands are the fulcrum.

Double levers:

Scissors: Scissors are a double first class lever. Let kids have some scissor practice. (Like cutting out the arms for the activity above.)

Tongs, tweezers, pliers: You could fill a sensory bin with pom poms and tongs. You could get a dried corn cob, and let kids use tweezers to pick out the kernels. Kids could use pliers to pull nails out of something (like pull the golf tees out of the pumpkin from the wedges activity!)

We filled the sensory bin with things to cut up with scissors, like straws, string, and paper. Then we added lots of types of tongs and encouraged kids to cut things up, then use the tongs to put them into a container. Great small motor / tool use practice.

Nutcracker: A nutcracker is a double second-class lever. If you’re not a nut-free facility, cracking walnuts open can occupy kids for hours!

Hammer: When a hammer is used to hammer in nails, it’s a third class lever.

Creation Station: In our classroom, we have a creation zone filled with recyclables (toilet paper rolls, margarine container lids, and so on), and small dibs and dabs (buttons, interesting pasta shapes, shells, plastic gems, and so on). There’s always an open table with some glue and kids are allowed to create anything they want. The oldest child in our Inventors Lab creates something fabulous each week, tied into the theme. On levers week, she built this seesaw.


Building toys: We also have one room called “The Construction Zone” where we put out various building blocks or other supplies. This week we had giant tinker toys. In the picture at the top of this post, you can see what a dad and child created… it was a see-saw like balance scale, but notice that on the end near the child there are free-floating discs. Those are weights that can be slid back and forth to adjust the power of the lift.


Snack: Use scissors to cut something – like pita bread. Use forks or chopsticks to eat with.

Book: In circle time, we read How Do You Lift a Lion? (Wells of Knowledge Science Series) by Wells, our favorite Simple Machines book. More book recommendations here.

Note: All the activities described in my posts are from Family Inventor’s Lab, a parent-child cooperative class in Bellevue, WA. We are a play-based, STEM focused class for preschool through early elementary (kids age 3 – 7). We do a wide variety of fun, hands-on activities to learn about Science, Tools, Engineering, Nature, and Art. We also sing songs and read stories. Most of our activities are cheap, easy, and use everyday materials that most families would have in their homes (or their recycle bins!), so that our activities are appropriate for classroom teachers, parents who homeschool, or after school programs.

Wedges – Simple Machines Activities for Kids


On the second week of our Simple Machines unit, we studied wedges and levers.

Key concept of wedges: A wedge is two inclined planes, brought together in a sharp edge. You place that sharp edge on an object you want to cut or separate, then you add force to the flat side (input force, shown with the hammer above). The wedge pushes into the object, with the force pushing outward to separate it (output force).

Circle Time

A demonstration: Give a child a pile of play-dough. Say “I want to cut this in half.” Have them try using the flat palm of their hand. They’ll figure out it doesn’t work – it just squishes the play-dough, it doesn’t separate it. They may figure out they can use the side of their hand. (Or you can suggest it.) That works better. Then give them a triangular
blockwooden block with a sharp point – hold it like the wedge in the diagram above and show them how to push it into the play-dough. That cuts it much better. (Optional: you could then have them use a plastic knife to cut it and point out how thin the edge is compared to the side of your hand.)

blocksExplaining the key concept: Take one triangular block. Show how the hypotenuse forms an inclined plane. Then put two blocks together, showing how two inclined planes form a wedge. Turn that upside down – see how the sharp point is like the sharp edge we used to cut the play-dough? We can use that point to separate things. Balance two books so their spines face up (or put two rectangle blocks on their sides next to each other). Push the wedge between them and it pushes them apart.

Book and Song: Choose from those listed in the Simple Machines post. We read, and sang:  Move It! Work It!: A Song About Simple Machines.

Optional additional concept: Doorstops, shims and wheel chocks are all wedges. They’re like ramps you shove underneath an object (or between two objects) to make it harder to move. It’s a little tricky to explain to kids how this counts as a wedge, but they can definitely see what makes each of these tools a useful tool to know how to use.


Play-dough table: Put out play-dough with an assortment of tools – have them test which ones cut best. Consider including plastic knives, chisels, scissors (two wedges in a double lever) and pizza cutter (wedge on a wheel.)


Nails: Nails are wedges. They are usually pushed through one object and into another to hold the two objects together. If you have kids over 4 or 5, they can use real nails, and a real hammer (better if it’s not a claw hammer…) with training and supervision. In our classroom, we used golf tees and toy hammers (I love these ones from Black and Decker – we also use them when we build houses from foam insulation panels). We pounded them into thick pieces of Styrofoam and into a pumpkin. Note: safety goggles are a good idea! If the tees went all the way through the Styrofoam and were pressed against the table, and then kids hammered hard on them, the top of the golf tee can break and fly up.


Scissors: Scissors are both wedges (the edge of the blades) and a compound lever, so this is a good week to have a scissor practice activity. For example, put out papers with zig-zag and curved lines and have them practice cutting.

Axes: Another common use of wedges is splitting wood. I have not figured out how to simulate wood chopping in any safe way in a classroom of pre-school age kids. There used to be a toy that did this but I can’t find any. Tell me if you have ideas!

Sensory table: Fill with rice or sand or whatever. Put in some square blocks and some triangles (wedges). Which are the easiest things to push through the sand? You could also include toy snowplows or bulldozers.

Water table: Put in toy boats (you can make some from milk cartons if desired – just toy-boatsearch on Pinterest for PLENTY of directions on how to do this). Show how the bow (front) is a wedge, which helps it move through the water. Have them try pushing it through the water backwards (stern first). It doesn’t move as well.


Make your own fruit salad. The littlest kids can slice bananas or seedless watermelon with plastic table knives. Middle-size kids could use scissors to snip marshmallows (or maybe grapes) into smaller pieces. Older kids could cut apples, or oranges with a sharper knife. You could also use a melon baller or chisel on the melon.

Snack time lesson: Have kids bite into an apple slice with their front teeth (wedges). They cut through the slice easily. Then have them chew with back molars (not wedges). These grind the food.

Do at home: Let your child practice cutting with scissors and with knives. Check out this post for thoughts about how/why to do this: Go Ahead, Give Your Toddler a Knife. And, for a little food for thought for when your child gets older, check out this TED speaker’s view on kids and pocket knives: (fast-forward to 4 minutes into video…)

For more ideas, and a simple machines song: Read Inclined Planes and Wedges Lesson:

Note: All the activities described in my posts are from Family Inventor’s Lab, a parent-child cooperative class in Bellevue, WA. We are a play-based, STEM focused class for preschool through early elementary (kids age 3 – 7). We do a wide variety of fun, hands-on activities to learn about Science, Tools, Engineering, Nature, and Art. We also sing songs and read stories. Most of our activities are cheap, easy, and use everyday materials that most families would have in their homes (or their recycle bins!), so that our activities are appropriate for classroom teachers, parents who homeschool, or after school programs.

Pulleys – Simple Machines Activities for Kids


In our kids’ STEM class, during our first session on Simple Machines, we covered Inclined Planes and Pulleys.

Key concept (the Science of Simple Machines): A pulley is a wheel that you loop a rope over. The key point of pulleys is that they redirect force. For example, instead of PUSHING a load UP, you can attach it to a rope and pulley above you and PULL DOWN. All pulley systems re-direct force. Some pulley systems make work easier, allowing a worker to use less force to move the object.

A demonstration:

  1. Tie a rope on something heavy (e.g. a basket of books, a sack of flour, or a 2-liter bottle of soda).
  2. Have a child lift the object off the ground by pulling up on the rope. They may only be able to lift it six inches or so off the ground – partially because it’s heavy, partially because their little arms can only reach so high.
  3. Then have them pick up the object itself and try to lift it high up above their head. It’s higher now, but wow it feels heavy to push it up.
  4. Then, string the rope up over the back of a chair or over a doorknob and have them pull down on it. It feels easier* to pull the rope down to lift the object than it did to push the object up with their hands. But they can only lift is as high as the pulley.
  5. Then throw a rope over the side of a slide platform (or around a railing on an open staircase: and put a kid up there to reel it in. Look how high you can lift something when you use this tool!

Notice that none of those examples use an actual “pulley” from a store – they used a chair or doorknob, a slide platform or a stair railing. You’re getting pulley action just by wrapping a rope around an object and pulling.

You can also rig a “pulley” with other objects you may have:

If you want to buy a basic pulley set for your kids, I think it’s a great investment in a fun toy they can use in a variety of ways for a number of years. The ones we used in class are Block & Tackle Pulley Kit (also available from Magic Cabin Toys). They were good for our purposes, although I strongly recommend using utility cord from the hardware store rather than the thin string from the kit, because it will be gentler on children’s hands and less likely to jump off the pulley. The kit came with a book on activities to teach kids about pulleys, so that was nice. We also considered (but I haven’t tested) Pulleys Discovery Kit and American Educational 7-1607 Pulley Kit. Or, you could get a Clothesline Kit.

We’ve recently inherited some pulleys from a Delta Science Modules kit.


Pulley Explorations

Set up a variety of pulley systems… we had them all set up in one class session, but you could also do one each day over a series of classes. Or set one up on the playground or in the backyard, and leave it there for months of fun!

clothesline pulley

The clothesline. Requires two pulleys. Attach pulleys to anchor points. Take a rope, and tie one end to one handle on a basket, then loop it around both pulleys, and tie the other end to the other handle of the basket so you have a continuous loop with a basket mounted on it. (Or, if you prefer, you could just have one loop of clothesline and put a clothespin on it… you could then clip on messages to send back and forth.) Then you pull on either the top or the bottom cord to bring the basket from one end to the other. This is easy for even two year olds to do, but still plenty of fun for our elementary aged kids.

  • Some ideas for anchor points: at home, we tied one end to a high stair railing, and one end to a chair. In class, we tied one end to the slide platform and one end to a step ladder. Next year, I plan to set this up somewhere different in the classroom – both years, we’ve had it on the slide platform with several other pulley systems. This one doesn’t need the height of the slide platform, so moving it elsewhere will help to spread out the pulley activities to different spaces. It could just string from one chair to another anywhere in the classroom.
  • To really engage kids in this activity, make it a message delivery system! Our students LOVED sending messages to Teacher Cym.

fixed pulley preschool engineering

A fixed pulley. Requires one pulley, and a high place to anchor it. You anchor the pulley, tie a rope onto a bucket, run the rope up over the pulley and back down to the ground. A child standing on the ground pulls on the loose end of the rope (shown with the red arrow above, and it lifts the basket high.

  • This activity is more fun if the high anchor is next to somewhere a child can stand, like on a slide platform, or on a stair railing, or tree house or the top of a ladder. That way, one child on the ground, pulling the rope to raise the load up to their buddy on the high platform. Stuffed animals are great fun to use with this. The child at the bottom puts an animal in the basket and sends it up. The other child can send it back down in the basket. (And if they accidentally drop it, no problem.)

moveable pulley kids' science

Moveable pulley. Requires one pulley. (We didn’t use this in class.) Tie a rope up high, run it through a pulley with a load hanging on it, then bring the end of the rope up high. Pull the rope up to bring the load up. For the fixed pulley, you need two kids – one at the bottom to pull the rope, and one at the top to catch the load. With the movable pulley, one kid up top can do both jobs. (Of course, there’s no one below to load the basket up.)

compound pulley preschool STEM

Compound pulley. Requires two “pulleys” – it’s basically a combination of a moveable and a fixed pulley. Note: we didn’t have enough pulleys, so we cheated. Instead of attaching a pulley on the bucket, we just looped the rope through the handle of the bucket so it could run through it like it would run through a pulley. So, we tied the rope high, ran it through the bucket handle, then through a pulley up high, then left an end of the rope dangling down. The child could pull down on the rope. We just had this set up along a wall, and it didn’t engage children as much, because we didn’t have anything special to lift up in it, and they weren’t lifting things up to a buddy.


A basket on a track. We threaded a cord through the handles of the basket so the basket could slide back and forth on the cord. We tied one end of the cord up high (on a slide platform or a stair railing) and the other down low (on a step ladder or a chair.) This cord is represented by the yellow line above, and it forms the track the basket travels on. Then we mounted a pulley near the top end of that cord. We tied one end of a rope onto the basket, ran it up and over the pulley, and down to the ground. When a child pulled down on the rope, it pulled the basket up to the top of the cord. If the basket is heavy enough, then when the child lets go of the rope, the basket will slide back down to the bottom of the cord. Note: this is one system that still needs work. It was hard to get the basket to glide well on the cord, and hard to weight it just right so it could be pulled up and would then slide back down. Next year we MIGHT trade the basket for some kind of gondola on a track.

block-and-tackle kids' science and engineering

Block and Tackle. There are lots of variant on block and tackle. The simplest is shown above. Block and tackles reduce the amount of work required to lift a load, because they distribute the work over multiple pulleys.

Here are pictures from class. I apologize for their quality. It’s hard to get a good picture of pulleys and ropes!

Here’s the top of the clothesline (above) and the top of the basket on a track (below) where they attached to the slide platform. (Click on it to see a larger image.)


Here’s our compound “pulley” system, using the basket handle as the second “pulley.”


Here’s our block and tackle system, set up on a ramp.

img_20160924_142103665_hdr img_20160924_142051759

Understanding force: In step #4 of our initial demonstration, we said if feels easier* to pull down on it. This is just a body mechanics sensation not a measurement of actual total “work” needed. That step was basically setting up a fixed pulley system, and with a fixed pulley, you need to use the same amount of force, the pulley just redirects your force.

The moveable pulley reduces the amount of force needed to lift the basket. The compound pulley reduces it even more as does the block and tackle. This Explain that Stuff article does a nice job of explaining the basics of force and pulleys at an adult level.  The Wikipedia article on pulleys has good descriptions of block and tackles.

Other Activities

Math activity: Put weights into each of the baskets. Dominoes? Glass pebbles? Books? Depends on how strong your baskets, your rope, and your child are. Count how many of that objects you can lift with each type of pulley. Which helps you do the most work?

Water table: We built a wishing well from Duplos, thread, and a plastic cup. Note: this requires some specialty Duplo pieces which we got from our Duplo Simple Machines pack. A pulley lifts the bucket up out of the water. These are views of the full well, the front of the pulley, and the back. (Click for larger image.)

Duplo wishing well simple machine pulley img_20160923_142128707 img_20160923_142145005

Challenge Activity – Build a Flagpole System. We put out straws, binder clips, spools, bobbins, string, and clay, and encouraged children to try making a flag pole. We also offered a couple samples we had assembled. This project was over the head of most of our preschool aged kids, but our older kids and parents had fun with the challenge.

Art project: Flagpoles use pulley systems to raise the flag. We had the children decorate paper flags with markers. Next to this station, we put posters showing the flags of all 50 states, and most countries, to serve as inspiration for the activity.

Circle Time

In the morning class, we basically did the demonstration of pulleys exactly as described at the top of this post, using one child as our volunteer to demonstrate the work.

In the afternoon class, we did it a little differently. We set up a ramp (inclined plane) using a long plank propped up on a step ladder. At the bottom of the plank, we set a basket full of two stuffed elephants. We tied a rope on the basket, ran it through a pulley attached to the step ladder, and back down. (A fixed pulley.) We had the kids haul on the rope to pull the elephants up the slide. It was HARD work! They had to learn how to brace their bodies to pull hard (a good large motor skill to learn!) Some kids would just pull on the rope and keep backing up further and further. Some understood how to pull hand over hand, so they could stand in one place and alternate hands to pull with. (Pulling hand over hand is also a great large motor skill to learn.) They were putting so much force into their pulling that an adult had to brace the ladder so it wouldn’t tip over.

Then, while I read the day’s book (Raising a Bag of Toys: Pulley vs. Inclined Plane), my co-teacher re-rigged the pulley system so it was a block and tackle attached to the basket of elephants. After the story, we had them all try pulling the elephants up again. It was SO MUCH EASIER for the kids to do. (And no need for an adult to brace the ladder.) This was a fabulous hands-on experience that really helped them appreciate the power of the block and tackle.

Next year, I think in opening circle, we’ll do the initial demonstration of the pulley idea, and in closing circle do the block and tackle demo.

Follow-Ups to Extend Learning

Set up your own pulley systems at home. As I mentioned above, you don’t HAVE to buy pulleys to do this. You can use a rolling pin, spools or bobbins, or carabiners, or even just a rope looped over a stair rail, a bunk bed rail, or the back of a chair. Let your child play with them. (Some kids can get caught up for hours in the simple process of loading a bucket and hauling it up to a high platform.)

Here’s a fun craft to make with recyclables: build a winch system:

Song: I didn’t really find a song that was good for this age group to sing… but for the entertainment and amusement of adults or older kids, check out “The Sick Note / Why Paddy’s Not at Work Today”:

Books: Here’s a full post on all the kids’ books about simple machines:

Videos about pulleys: and

For a great collection of pulley activities for kids, including recommended books, click here: Here are a couple fun posts about how parents added pulley play to their backyards for hours or years of fun for their kids:;; and

Here is an image showing the four main types of pulleys, and here’s a PDF mini-poster you can print of all 6 types of pulley systems I describe.




Note: All the activities described in my posts are from Family Inventor’s Lab, a parent-child cooperative class in Bellevue, WA. We are a play-based, STEM focused class for preschool through early elementary (kids age 3 – 7). We do a wide variety of fun, hands-on activities to learn about Science, Tools, Engineering, Nature, and Art. We also sing songs and read stories. Most of our activities are cheap, easy, and use everyday materials that most families would have in their homes (or their recycle bins!), so that our activities are appropriate for classroom teachers, parents who homeschool, or after school programs.