If there’s one force that any budding builder needs to internalise, it’s gravity. Learning to walk is a victory over gravity, a feat of strength and balance. When it comes to building, keeping things in balance is another triumph.
Check out these three hands-on projects that will help your kids see the art and science of balancing in a new light.
Here’s an easy little Saturday morning cut-and-colour project for younger children that has a neat trick at the end: Can you get this cut-out robot to balance? The blog Buggy and Buddy offers a printable balancing robot along with the full list of instructions. Simply add some poster tack to penny weights at the end, and the kids will have a lot of fun discovering new places to balance their new friend.
Amazing balancing silverware
You’ll want to watch the video of this Steve Spangler Science experiment, because this one has some built-in showmanship and finesse that would impress anyone.
You start by wedging the bowl of a spoon into the tines of a fork. (Yes, it does require a bit of bending.) Then you can balance your metallic structure on a toothpick, which balances on the edge of a glass.
What happens if you light both ends of the toothpick on fire? (Yes, this is an experiment that needs grownup supervision.) We hate to say this, but it’s true: You won’t believe what happens next.
Watch the video, try this at home and see what kind of theories everyone spins as to how the cutlery manages to keep balancing on what appears to be an off-centre toothpick. Luckily, the website offers a detailed explanation, so you’ll have an unforgettable kitchen science lesson about how the centre of gravity works.
Here’s a thought-provoking design challenge for older kids that turns gravity into a useful tool, courtesy of PBS’s Design Squad. The idea is to design a zip line that transports a ping-pong ball in four seconds or less. In addition to learning about how to reduce friction, it also involves using weights to keep the ball carrier in balance as it rockets down the fishing line.