Getting Started with Physics

Drop a ball, roll it down the driveway, bounce it to the ceiling... all of these are fascinating to a child in the Preschool years!

You don't need much in terms of equipment for doing real science with kids at this age. In fact, the most important thing you can do with your child is to get them to two important things:

First, teach them to get curious about the world around them and help them ask questions about what they observe.  Kids that spend more time outside and with real materials (not watching a screen) are able to learn this skill much more easily.

Next, help them to discover new ways of answering their own questions. Ask them things like: "Did it go too fast? How can we slow it down?" will elicit their own ideas for solving their own problems.
In this section, you'll find a  collection of introductory experiments that get kids excited and interested in the world of physics. Your child will build roller coasters, play homemade musical instruments, slingshot fast catapults, fly gravity-defying airplanes, build a simple hovercraft, and play with the different states of matter as they explore, discover, and pique their curiosity and wonder as they step into science!

Here are the scientific concepts:

  • Pushes and pulls can have different strengths and directions.
  • Pushing or pulling on an object can change the speed or direction of its motion and can start or stop it.
  •  When objects touch or collide, they push on one another and can change motion.
  • A bigger push or pull makes things go faster.
  • A situation that people want to change or create can be approached as a problem to be solved through engineering. Such problems may have many acceptable solutions
  • Properties of materials can be observed, measured and predicted.
  • Objects can be described in terms of the materials they are made of (clay, cloth, paper, etc.) and their physical properties (color, size, shape, weight, texture, flexibility, attraction to magnets, floating and sinking, etc.)
  • Water can be a liquid or a solid and can be made to change back and forth from one form to the other.
  • Water left in an open container evaporates (goes into the air), but water in a closed container does not.
  • Objects roll down a ramp when placed at the top, and their speed at the bottom depends on how high up the object starts.



By the end of the labs in this unit, students will be able to:

  • Identify and describe the physical properties of solids and liquids.
  • Practice common techniques that field scientists use in their science journals.
  • Describe the relative position of objects using one reference (e.g., above or below).
  • Compare and sort common objects based on one physical attribute (including color, shape, texture, size, weight).
  • Communicate observations orally and in drawings.


Select a Lesson

Sensing Temperature
Have you ever wondered how an ice-cold glass of water gets waterdrops on the outside of the cup? Where does that water come from? Does it ease it’s way through the glass? Did someone come by and squirt the glass with water? No of course not. Some of the gaseous water molecules in the air …
Making Clouds
Indoor Rain Clouds Making indoor rain clouds demonstrates the idea of temperature, the measure of how hot or cold something is. Here's how to do it: Take two clear glasses that fit snugly together when stacked. (Cylindrical glasses with straight sides work well.) Fill one glass half-full with ice water and the other half-full with …
Simple Hovercraft
Hovercraft transport people and their stuff across ice, grass, swamp, water, and land. Also known as the Air Cushioned Vehicle (ACV), these machines use air to greatly reduce the sliding friction between the bottom of the vehicle (the skirt) and the ground. This is a great example of how lubrication works – most people think …
Flying Contraptions
Mathematically speaking, this particular flying object shouldn't be able to fly.  What do you think about that? Why can this thing fly? It doesn’t even LOOK like a plane! When I teach at the university, this is the plane that mathematically isn’t supposed to be able to fly! There are endless variations to this project—you …
When you drop a ball, it falls 16 feet the first second you release it. If you throw the ball horizontally, it will also fall 16 feet in the first second, even though it is moving horizontally… it moves both away from you and down toward the ground. Think about a bullet shot horizontally. It …
Roller Coasters
We’re going to build monster roller coasters in your house using just a couple of simple materials. You might have heard how energy cannot be created or destroyed, but it can be transferred or transformed (if you haven’t that’s okay – you’ll pick it up while doing this activity). Roller coasters are a prime example …
Inclined Plane
What’s an inclined plane? Jar lids, spiral staircases, light bulbs, and key rings. These are all examples of inclined planes that wind around themselves.  Some inclined planes are used to lower and raise things (like a jack or ramp), but they can also used to hold objects together (like jar lids or light bulb threads). Here’s …
Buzzing Hornets
Sound is everywhere. It can travel through solids, liquids, and gases, but it does so at different speeds. It can rustle through trees at 770 MPH (miles per hour), echo through the ocean at 3,270 MPH, and resonate through solid rock at 8,600 MPH. Sound is made by things vibrating back and forth, whether it’s …
Your voice is a vibration, and you can feel it when you place a hand on your throat when you speak. As long as there are molecules around, sound will be traveling though them by smacking into each other. That’s why if you put an alarm clock inside a glass jar and remove the air, …