Simple Machine Projects for Kids

kids working on machine projects
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Science and engineering projects for kids sound anything but simple to busy parents.  Visions of poster board, hot glue, and tears flash before their eyes.  But simple machine projects for kids really are, well, simple.  They’re much easier than many other STEM projects because they involve just the basics of engineering and physics – and very few parts.

Photo by Gunnar Ridderström from Pexels

A simple machine is a tool that uses force to make work easier.  They have few or no moving parts.  They are present in our everyday lives all the time, and we often don’t even recognize them.  There are plenty of kid-friendly examples that can bring simple machines to life in the eyes of children.

  • Lever (and fulcrum) (Think of see-saws on the playground!)

  • Inclined plane (Think of your bicycle ramp or the slides at the playground!)

  • Wedge (Think of the doorstop that holds your door open!)

  • Screw (Think about opening the battery compartment on a toy!)

  • Wheel and axle (Flip over your favorite matchbox car and check it out!)

  • Pulley (Do you have a toy crane? Think about how your flagpole works at school!)

You can incorporate any of these 6 everyday tools into your simple machine project ideas for kids of all ages.  It helps to understand each type of machine when they can make real-world examples.

Engineering for Kids – Let’s Build a Passion for Engineering!

Simple machines are used in complex feats of engineering every day.  They make work easier.  What kid doesn’t look for ways to make life easier? (It’s why they shove everything under their bed to clean their room.)  Hello? Lifehack!  Every simple machine is an incredible life hack that changed the way mankind works by giving us a mechanical advantage.  Egyptians built pyramids using the basics of simple machines.  This incredible realization is often lost on kids.  They just want to play.  But we can let them play and learn – all while building a passion for a life-skill and career path.

Adults who are passionate about engineering, or any other topic, are often passionate because they were introduced to it very young and in fun ways.  Basic engineering projects for kids can help them to build their own passions for problem-solving.  After all, passion is usually built, not born.  Though children are natural engineers, they often don’t make the connection between the things they love to do already and the engineering process.  Their natural curiosity and affinity for building and creating are at the center of engineering.  Giving them STEM projects for kids and talking to them about the relationship between those activities and engineering clues them in.  Create that lightbulb moment where they say,  “Hey, I actually DO like engineering, and I’m good at it!”.

Why is it good for your kids to develop an interest in STEM projects?

Nothing felt more overwhelming in school than when a teacher handed out an assignment that involved some big problem that needed to be solved through an elaborate problem-solving process.  A hands-on project that was being graded at every stage felt too big to handle and created extra pressure to get it right. The “problem” always felt unsolvable right from the beginning.

The best way to combat this inevitable situation is to put STEM, science, and engineering projects in front of kids before it counts.  Informal experiences with STEM projects for kids outside of school helps them develop critical thinking skills more naturally because they learn and play.  A positive attitude about project-based learning goes a long way.

Photo by Jerry Wang on Unsplash

They don’t feel the pressures of rules and grades and a teacher’s watchful eye, so they can naturally explore a topic at their own pace.  They can solve a problem, build a project, or complete a task without fear of punishment for their failures.  After all – failure is part of creative problem-solving.  It makes you go back and look at the problem differently.  This ability to rethink and approach a problem from multiple angles isn’t just an asset to their education, it’s a lesson in life skills.

Can Engineering Actually Be Made Interesting For Kids?

If engineering wasn’t interesting for kids, LEGO, K’nex, and Erector Sets wouldn’t be household names.  STEM kits for kids would never have become an entire industry.  Their love of building, exploring, and creating is why STEM toys for kids are flying off shelves.  Adults are beginning to realize that the natural curiosity to destroy and rebuild can be used to cultivate a generation of innovators, inventors, and scientists.

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

 

Engineering for kids wouldn’t be interesting if it was textbooks, instructions, worksheets, and homework.  It becomes a lot more interesting when we make a catapult out of cardboard that launches a ping pong ball at a target across the room.  Capitalizing on a child’s ability to play and learn is what fuels their fire, builds their passion, and solidifies their understanding.

Are Engineering Projects for Kids Really Safe to Use at Home?

I guess a catapult sounds like a dangerous engineering project for kids.  Remind them not to launch nails – and you should be good.

But seriously – there are plenty of engineering and simple machine projects for kids that can be done at home and in school that are absolutely safe to build and use.  Just like any other DIY stem projects for home use, choosing an age-appropriate activity is key.  Preschoolers and highschoolers will have completely different skill sets.  Recommendations for very young children should be simple and designed for short term wins and successes.  (Their attention span barely rivals a goldfish.)  No matter the age, safety measures should be put in place when doing any type of science project.

Photo by Mier Chen on Unsplash

Older children can get into more advanced engineering projects.  Their simple machine projects could utilize more than one simple machine.  (We call those compound machines… Stay tuned because we’ll cover those.)  One of the most engineering activities is to visualize and bring to life a Rube Goldberg Machine.  Never heard of a Rube Goldberg Machine?  Check out this Rube Goldberg Machine with your child and see if they can spot all six simple machines!

Use your best judgment, provide an appropriate level of adult supervision, and your child can safely make plenty of engineering projects at home.

How Old Does My Child Need to be to Start With Engineering Projects for Kids?

Simple machine projects for kids are possible at a surprisingly early age.  Preschool kids can build ramps, levers to launch stuffed animals, and observe simple machines in their everyday life.  Engineering projects can start as soon as you want them to, and believe us when we say “The earlier, the better!”.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Kindergarten classrooms nationwide have begun introducing STEM concepts, computational thinking, and engineering skills to promote critical thinking and problem solving that children carry through to high-school and beyond.  Developing a lifelong love of learning starts at an early age, and that love of learning in the engineering and STEM fields is no different.  The sooner a student becomes proficient and comfortable with the basic concepts of engineering, the sooner they can advance into more difficult areas.  Start small when they’re young, and watch as those simple STEM projects for kids start to develop into advanced engineering projects that change the world.

Simple Machine Projects for Kids That You Can Do in Your Home.

You can help your child develop engineering basics by implementing some DIY STEM projects for kids stuck in the house on a rainy afternoon.  Some of the easiest at-home simple machine projects for kids require basic supplies you already have in your own home.  Here at Thimble, we love all things engineering and want to see your kids flourish in STEM and beyond.  So we scoured the internet to find the best simple machine project ideas for your kids.

Project #1: Paper Plate Wheel and Axle Project

Materials:

Four Paper Plates

Glue or Tape

Pencil

String

Elmer's glue, a pencil, two paper plates, and the string to pull your wheel and axle.

Process:

Step 1:  Glue two paper plates together with the tops facing each other.  This should make a dome-like shape.

Step 2:  Glue the remaining two plates together the same way.  You now have two, round, paper plate wheels.

Step 3:  Poke holes directly through the center of each wheel and connect them with the pencil.  The pencil has now become your axle.

Step 4:  Wrap the string around the pencil and leave enough for you to grip the string like a leash.  Slowly begin pulling the string.  As it unravels, your simple machine will begin moving forward.  You’ve just built a wheel and axle.

Project #2:  Clothespin Car

Materials:

Plastic drinking straw

Bread ties

Wooden clothespin

Tape

4 buttons, equal size
Milk Crate
A large piece of cardboard or plywood

A simple machine clothespin car sits on a wooden table with red and green equally sized buttons as wheels with bread ties as axles.

Process:

Step 1:  Cut two one inch pieces of the drinking straw.

Step 2:  Thread the bread ties through the straws.  The bread ties will act as your car’s axle.

Step 3:  Secure buttons to the end of the bread ties.

Step 4:  Clip one axle with the clothespin. Slide the other axle into the back of the clothespin, against the spring.

Step 5: Wrap the open end of the clothespin with tape to secure the axle.

Step 6:  You can use a crate and a piece of cardboard or plywood to make a ramp to roll your new car down.  (Simple Machine Alert:  Your ramp is an inclined plane!)

Project #3:  Rolling Pin Pulley

Materials:

Rolling Pin

String
Bucket with a handle
Two kitchen chairs, or other props

A rolling pin rests on the back of two kitchen chairs with a string draped over, tied to a bucket. The rolling pin is acting as a pulley.

Process:

Step 1:  Prop the rolling pin up by supporting the handles with two supports.  Kitchen chair backs work well.
Step 2:  Fill a bucket with a heavyweight, such as rocks or water.  Water could get messy!

Step 3:  Lift the heavy bucket with your hand.  Observe how difficult it is to lift.
Step 4:  Next, tie the string around the handle of the bucket and drape it over the rolling pin.  Pull the end of the string and notice how much easier it is to lift the same heavy bucket.

Further Your Understanding: Simple Machines for Kids Combine to Become Compound Machines for Kids

We’re including a bonus compound machine project to level up your understanding of simple machine projects for kids.  What’s a compound machine?  A compound machine is a combination of two or more simple machines.

Bonus Compound Machine: Thimble’s Wifi Robot

Materials:

Thimble’s Wifi Robot Kit

Computer

Wifi
A completed Thimble wifi robot kit sits on a table beside a computer.

This project involves many simple machines working together.  Wheels and axles, screws, and pulley mechanisms, as well as circuits and coding!  This compound machine is a combination of lots of simple machines and is an incredibly in-depth look at how they all work together.

When you’ve tackled all of the DIY simple machine projects for kids here, then you’re ready to move onto more advanced engineering projects for kids.  Let Thimble STEM kits introduce you to more robust engineering for kids like yours! Subscribe today!

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