Summer Activities: Magnificent Machines
Children use the scientific method and problem-solving skills to explore tools and machines.
- Grades: PreK–K
Young children are fascinated by how things ''work.'' They are at a stage of development where they want to experiment with the many ways to use an object or take things apart and put them back together. In the process of exploring tools and machines, children use the scientific method and problem-solving skills. They observe how things work, wonder and experiment with ways to solve a problem or fix something, and synthesize the information into new and creative inventions. The long warm days of summer are the perfect time for the "inventor" in everyone to come out and play. Use these activities and extensions to have an inventive summer together.
Guessing games are always an exciting way to get children thinking about a topic. Collect a variety of tools used by different kinds of workers and place them in the middle of your circle at group time. Invite children to guess what the tools are and who might use them. Choose popular community workers to explore the tools of their trade. What do firefighters use? What do police officers, sanitation workers, pilots, doctors, and secretaries use?
Expand the conversation by asking: Do all workers where hats? How is a hat a tool? You can use children's books about community workers and magazines to inspire the conversation. Create a tally sheet to record children's findings as you explore and discuss the pictures. Label one column of the tally sheet with a picture of a hat. The other column can be labeled with a hat covered by the international symbol for no. You can place a tally mark each time children suggest a finding that fits a category.
You can also begin your exploration of tools by bringing in a simple tool children may not be familiar with — a crochet hook or melon scooper. Invite children to brainstorm all the ways the tool can be used!
- Unusual tools to examine
- Old machines to take apart safely
- Manipulative toys
- Building toys
- Recycled materials
- Movement music
- Movement props
- Pictures of tools
- Tool and machine books
- Chart paper and markers
- How Can We Move This Box of Blocks?
- What Can You Use to Beat an Egg?
- Tool Shop
- Machines 'R' Us
Using the Activities
Every activity in the section above will get children thinking and problem solving with the tools and objects they find in everyday life. The trick to any good activity is to repeat it several times in different ways. Each time you do this, children will be asked to expand their understandings and apply knowledge gained in the first activity. Here is a suggestion for each of the activities:
Ask problem solving questions after children have explored the "different ways to beat an egg." How many ways can you mash a potato? What tools can we use? How many ways can we melt butter or chocolate? Then test out their hypothesis.
Use cooperative problem-solving games to ask children to expand their understanding from "moving the box of blocks." In a game called "carpet island," three or four children are challenged to move a bathmat from one place to another without anyone falling off. Or in the "sack race," two children in a pillowcase have to find a way to get from one place to another without falling out. They can crawl, slither, or hop — whatever works!
Create a tool pantomime game to ask children to apply what they have learned in the "tool shop" activity in a different context. Paste pictures of tools on index cards. To play the game, one child takes a card (without showing it) and acts out the tool for others to guess!
Ask children to be movement machines as a way to help them apply their understanding about how machines work in the "Machines 'R' Us" activity. Put on some lively movement music and ask children to "move like a machine" around the room. Stop the music and ask two "child-machines" to join together to make a larger machine. Then, put on the music so they can dance their machine around the room. Each time you stop the music, invite sets of child-machines to join together to make larger and larger machines until everyone is together in one giant machine of movement!
Make homemade carbon paper as a way to expand the art of the "Copycats" activity. Using a wax crayon in a single color, rub color all over a small piece of poster board or oak tag paper. Tape the crayon-covered sheet (crayon side down) over a blank sheet of copy paper. Tape firmly so the papers don't slip. The children can now use a chopstick to draw a picture. Coach them to press down on the pencil when drawing. Remove the tape and top paper to reveal the copy!
Go on a tool walk as a way to apply children's understandings from the "Cool Tools" activity to the world around them. Walk around the school and the neighborhood looking for people using a wide variety of tools. Use a digital or disposable camera to take pictures of the "tools at work." Back in the classroom, put the photos together with children's words to create a class book.
Conversation Starters and Questions
A good conversation starts with a good question. Use these open-ended questions to invite children to think and problem solve:
- How many ways do you think you can use a banana?
- How many ways can you melt butter?
- How many ways can you and a partner move like a machine?
- How is your body a tool?
- What parts of your body do you use as a tool?
- What makes a tool a tool?
- How many different machines can you think of?
- What would happen if there were no more washing machines, hammers, or stoves?
- What did people do before there were kitchen appliances, computers, or telephones?
- What tools and machines do your mother and father use?
- Are sunglasses a tool?
- What would happen if we didn't have forks, knives, and spoons?
- What tools do animals use?
- How is a horse's tail like a flyswatter?
- How is a turtle's shell like a helmet?
- What tools do you use to be safe?
- What kinds of tools do you think insects might use?
- What are the smallest tools you can think of? ECT
Building Structures with Young Children by Ingrid Chalufour and Karen Worth
The Cooperative Sports and Games Book by Terry Orlick
Learn & Play the Recycle Way: Homemade Toys that Teach by Rhoda Redleaf and Audrey Robertson
Science is Simple by Peggy Ashcroft
Terrific Transitions by Ellen Booth Church
Tools: A First Discovery Book by Claude Delafosse and Daniel Moignot