Whether you do it for a school project or just for amusement on a rainy afternoon, building a simple machine is a great activity to work on with your child. Not only is building something an excellent way to spend time together, but doing so is also a wonderful opportunity for a straightforward engineering lesson. You can use the time to teach your child to recognize and understand the six types of simple machines: levers, wheels and axles, pulleys, inclined planes, wedges, and screws.
A lever is a simple object, like a board or a beam, that rotates around a fulcrum. Intriguingly, the ancient Greek scientist Archimedes may have been the first to describe a lever in writing. Archimedes also wrote about the concepts behind the pulley and the screw. A pulley is a simple mechanism consisting of a grooved wheel with a cable, rope, or belt hung around it. The object to be lifted is attached to one end of the cable, and the other end is pulled to lift it. A screw is a type of inclined plane, usually used to hold objects together.
A wheel and axle is a simple device that consists of two wheels connected to the same axle. One example of a wheel and axle is the device that lifts water from a well. An inclined plane has no moving parts, and chutes, ramps, slides, and blades are all examples of inclined planes. A wedge is an inclined plane that is used for lifting, holding, or separating objects.
One fun, easy project involves building a seesaw out of lumber and two galvanized window wells. Lay one window well over the other and hold them down to the ground with spikes. Drill holes through both and tighten with bolts. Make the seat out of lumber, and fasten two boards to its underside around the center. Place the seat over the galvanized window wells, with the upper part of the wells between the two boards. If you prefer, you can attach handles to the seesaw by bolting them through the bottom of each end of the seat. The handles can be made of wood, iron, or whatever will be safe and comfortable for your children.
If your child is taking part in a complicated long-term group project, you may need an equipment lease to help complete the project. If this is the case, you can look for a good equipment leasing company, which will help you procure the equipment you need in order to construct more sophisticated simple machine.
More Information and Simple Machine Projects
- Kids Seesaw Project: A page on Things to Build that provides information on how to build a seesaw and other simple machines.
- Do-It-Yourself Projects: Do-it-yourself instructions from UBuild.com for backyard projects, kids’ construction corner activities, landscaping projects, etc.
- ThinkQuest.org—Simple Machines: Information about simple machines, including some craft projects.
- Pulley: Information on pulleys and belt drives.
- Levers: Information on levers, with animated illustrations.
- Simple Machines for Kids: Information about simple machines and how to build them.
- Wheels & Axles and Levers: Directions for building and experimenting with a wheel and axle and a lever.
- Plant Quencher: Instructions from Teachers' Domain on how to build a plant-watering device.
- Cody’s Science Education Zone—Simple Machines: A list of interesting activities using simple machines.
- Bizrate—kids building simple machines: A selection of simple machine-themed building sets and models for kids.