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Ramps & Pendulums

Playing with ramps is a great way for children to explore physics. It’s the perfect, open-ended project that can grow with your child and engage siblings of different ages. Cal, at less than two years old, currently enjoys the simplicity of repeatedly rolling cars through a propped-up shipping tube or down a flat, wide piece of wood. Some of my five year old students have enthusiastically used similar materials to build elaborate, challenging marble runs or car ramps with twists and turns and specific goals about where they want the object to end up. And, of course, there’s so much to create in between those two extremes.

Ideas for materials:

-cardboard shipping tube(s)

-plastic rain gutters from Lowe’s or Home Depot (Click here for example. Less than 5 bucks for a 10ft piece. I recommend cutting it in half in the store.)

-Anything that rolls and fits your ramps: marbles, matchbox cars, wiffle balls, tennis balls, etc.

-metal bowl for cars/marbles to either hit or land in (the noise delights them and gives immediate feedback)

-blocks for creating barriers, landing zones, or to prop up ramps


I LOVE this marble ramp! Watch closely…

Above, the children roll wiffle balls down the ramp while another child tries to trap the balls using cones.

Similar to the cone/ball game but with a fun narrative to go along with it: The children pretend to be owls on the hunt for mice. Another child rolls “mice” (wiffle balls) into their “forest” (a chalked off area they’re flying around in). The owls rush to snatch up the mice, then return them to their “nest” (a bowl next to the ramp).
This is a pendulum setup: magnet wands hanging from a cardboard shipping tube suspended between two shelves. An easier and fun setup at home is to hang a tennis ball from the horizontal shipping tube (or broom!) and give the children paper cups or other lightweight, stackable objects to knock over, wrecking ball style. Hours of fun.
Simple – shipping tube, pillows, metal bowl, matchbox cars

All you really need for this is wax paper wrapped around any firm, flat object that can be propped at an angle + food color & water + dropper. (I have plenty of droppers if you’d like to borrow.) The children will engage with this setup for a LONG time. Pro tip: put the colored water in a muffin tin or similar container to keep them working longer with the dropper (otherwise the water gets dumped from the get-go if in a small cup)
The gutters are great for outdoor water ramps, too! Colored water in old shampoo bottles is a hit.