Last week, we headed out for a boat ride on science day. What do boats have to do with friction? Well, not nothing because I can think of connections, but mostly we just wanted to avail ourselves of the free boat ride before they expired. We saw some blue herons, the edge of the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens and the National Arboretum. There’s Mushroom and one of his friends on the boat.
Then, we headed to the playground for some friction experiments. My idea was originally to explore all the forces and motion concepts we had learned about by playing on the playground equipment. However, this wasn’t the best playground ever, though we did have it to ourselves.
We started by reviewing Newton’s Laws and then demonstrating different aspects of them on the equipment. Here are all the kids on the little bouncy equipment piece. We talked about how it had a lot of potential energy, the way a rubber band does. Then we talked about how it’s still until a force makes it move. We talked about how different weights (or, combinations of kids) effected its motion differently. This was a nice thing for exploring Newton’s third law since the kids could feel the equipment bounce back up every time they pushed down on it.
Next, we talked about friction. I invited to kids to use a bag of stuff I had brought to increase the friction on the slide enough to stop a heavy wooden block from sliding down it. They figured out a way involving modeling clay and strips of sandpaper.
I pointed out that sometimes you want more friction. We all climbed up the slide to demonstrate that and checked out the friction on the bottom of our shoes. However, sometimes you want less friction. I pulled out a brand new roll of wax paper to show everyone. Then, we all did the old trick of sliding down the slide on the wax paper. My kids had never done this and it proved to be great fun. If you don’t know this trick, get yourself down to the playground with wax paper. The more you slide with the wax paper on your bottom, the more the wax rubs off the paper and onto the slide, decreasing the friction on the slide and increasing the fun. I wish I had a non-blurry picture of the results of sliding down a waxed slide, but honestly, my camera’s not good enough for something that quick!
As an addendum to our science day, the other day Mushroom borrowed my fuzzy gloves at a playground so he could decrease his friction as he slid down some poles. But then he didn’t take them off when he climbed to the top of the big metal climber and suffered a really severe fall, presumably because he didn’t have enough friction to hold on. Luckily nothing was broken. So, as a public service announcement, let me just say it’s important to know when you need friction and when you don’t.
Oh, and one more note! I’ve added my name to a group of other homeschoolers doing “We Did Science Friday” blog posts. You can check out the list at Rowing Downstream. Reading on homeschool lists and blogs, it often feels like many homeschoolers struggle to find a time to give science its due. I’m not sure what to say about that except that we love science. Doing science isn’t as hard as you think, at least not for elementary schoolers – I wouldn’t want to presume for high schoolers yet!