Simple Machine Science for Kids: Launching Ping Pong Ball Snowmen by Buggy and Buddy
Whenever I invite my kids to participate in science experiments, my main goal is NOT to make sure they master a set concept, but simply to allow them to explore the activity in their own way. Giving this freedom to children inspires them to make predictions and critically think about the world around them in a pressure-free setting.
We don’t really get snow in our neck of the woods so we have to create our own imaginary snow activities~ like our indoor snowy toy car ramp, or like this activity- launching ping pong ball snowmen!
Materials for Launching Ping Pong Ball Snowmen
- Ping pong balls (Optional: Draw snowmen faces on the ping pong balls with Sharpiesto make this science activity winter themed!)
- Wooden yardstick
- Something to use as a fulcrum (Examples: coffee can, large wooden toy block, a log, or a brick )
- Small plastic cup
- Strong tape (like packing tape or masking tape)
- An open space to do the activity (like your yard or a nearby park)
- Optional: Paper and pencil for science journaling
1. Tape a plastic cup to one end of the yardstick. (We started off with just a few pieces of tape, but soon realized we needed to add quite a bit more to keep the cup from flying off the yardstick. Really tape that baby down with some strong tape.)
2. Grab your ping pong ball snowmen, your yardstick (with cup attached) and whatever you’re using as the fulcrum (in our case a coffee can) and head outside. Find an open space (like your yard) to set up your activity.
2. Place the yardstick over the coffee can (or whatever item you’ve found to use as the fulcrum).
3. Put a ping pong ball snowman into the cup.
4. Give the snowman a little pep talk before his launch.
4. Push down on the opposite end of the yardstick quickly (with either your hand or foot) and observe what happens to the ping pong ball.
5. Allow plenty of time for children to explore launching the ping pong balls. Optional: Encourage children to record what they are noticing in their science journals. Younger children can illustrate what is happening with simple pictures.
6. Depending on the age and interest of your child, introduce the terms lever and fulcrum. (A lever is basically a stick or rod that uses a pivot point or fulcrum to move something. In this case the yardstick is the lever, the coffee can is the fulcrum, and the lever is moving the ping pong ball.)
7. Invite your child to observe what happens to the ping pong ball when changing the position of the fulcrum. Older children can use the markings on the yardstick to record the location of the fulcrum in their science journal and how each location affects the distance the ping pong ball travels.
This activity can be a great learning experience for any age! Theo at 2 years old had a blast launching his ping pong ball snowman! He felt proud being able to set up the activity on his own and gained experience with cause and effect.
Lucy, age 5, was determined to see how she could set the lever up to get the ball to go the furthest by changing the location of the fulcrum after each launch. And she was very excited to find out what would happen when she launched lots of snowmen at once. She made all kinds of predictions as she explored our lever activity!
Want to Go Even Further?
Related activities to extend the learning for various ages.
- Play on a seesaw at your local playground. How is the seesaw the same and different as your ball launching lever? Do you think the seesaw is a lever? Why or why not?
- Where do you see levers being used in your everyday life? (Some examples: scissors, seesaw, pliers)
- Go online or to the library and research first class, second class, and third class levers.
- Design and build a smaller version of the lever we made today.