Friday, January 27, 2012

Sail Cars with 2-3 yr olds

I did it! I had my first official Pepsi Refresh sponsored visit to a preschool!

I started with double this amount of special race cars!  Note-to-self, when speaking to 2-3 year olds, when you say you have a "special treat" for them, they think something yummy, not super cool race cars.  Whoops.

I started out with an introduction to the concept of gravity. We dropped some balls from way up high. They were able to guess that the balls will fall to the ground. Great hypothesizing! We talked about gravity keeping us on the ground and not letting us float up into the sky.  They happily repeated, "Gravity!"

I then thought it would be fun to see what they thought about what an untied balloon would do when dropped. Whoa! It didn't fall to the ground. It shot off like a rocket!  The kids giggled.  I then show them my balloon I have tied off and asked what they thought it would do if I let go.  They said go up to the sky.  However, it was just blown up with air and not helium, so it too dropped to the ground.  It was fun to see their wheels turning and get them making some educational guesses.

Ok, back to the non-edible "special treats".  I had pre-made the 18 vehicles the week before.  I hot-glued the wheels and only two kids' wheels fell off, one of the two was more interested in destruction than science.  It's all good - I'll count it as reverse engineering for now - still science.

We started with discussing what would happen if we let go of the cars on the ramps.  I had ramps of different sizes all across the room and tried to snap some pictures.  Man, these kids move quickly.  They quickly realize that the biggest ramp, held up by a bookshelf, was the best ramp for the fastest car!  Yay, they used their scientific process to figure that out because I didn't say.  The biggest ramp was the most popular by far.

On your marks, get set, go!
It was during the time we were playing with ramps that some teachers and kids from the older preschool rooms decided to peek in at our fun!  It looks like I might have to repeat this experiment with the 3-5 year olds too.  I don't mind.  It was tons of fun!

Back to the lesson: I then showed them that even when the cars aren't up high we can make them go.  I gave them all a sail (which I white-school-glued the night before and they all stayed together!) to put in their pre-punctured hole in the top of their car.  They tried it on the carpet first (which worked pretty well with the school-style, high traffic carpet)

A friend successfully moves his sail car 

This is another point where I love teaching science.  The 2-3 year old kids figured out the sail cars work better on the table than the carpet.  The whole experimented shifted to the tables.

Blowing on it like a candle

A race!

It's not working so well blowing down there

Yay, success!

Then they found out how to have real fun, blowing it off of the table!

And there it goes!

That was the basically the end of the lesson.  I let them have a few more minutes of free play with their science cars before I packed up the ramps.  This is the point where I could brainstorm about how to tweak the lesson for the next time.  They went back to the larger ramp, of course, but they wanted to make it taller.  It became taller and taller until it was basically vertical.  Then their cars were nose-diving into the ground!  I love letting kids experiment freely.  They thought it was pretty fun.

Try 1
Try 2
Almost captured the car mid-drop

Time for lesson - 10 minute set-up, 20 minute lesson!  I consider it a major success.  Keeping 2-3 year old kids' attention for 10 minutes is hard, and I had them most of the 20 minutes.  The kids all seemed to enjoy themselves and some kids wanted their parents to wait a little longer so they can finish their experiment (I did this in the late afternoon/pick-up time).

Lessons learned - don't use anything as ramps that would be of value.  Luckily, the ramps were recyclable cardboard and particle board scraps.  Thicker poster board would work well too.

I'm definitely pocketing sail cars for a future family science day.  Now to start thinking about the next lesson...

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  1. Definitely going to have to try this with my kids.

    1. Em - if you haven't found wheels yet. Try Gatorade lids or salsa cups/lids. Use a drill the size similar to the straw/skewer and hot glue the wheel to the axle. Good luck. Let me know how it goes for you guys! ~Jess

  2. What did you use for your wheels, it looks like some sort of foam?

    1. We purchased them from a teaching store, RAFT, in a different kit. We just used the wheels of that kit. They were fabulous. These look like they can work (affiliate link:, but you may have to puncture the hole yourself and use a straw under the tp tube instead of holes through the tube. The foam circles linked above seem smaller than the ones I got from the teacher store. Good luck. Let me know if that works out for you or if you have any other questions.

    2. The link in my first comment are really small, thin circles. 2 mm in thickness. This link is 3 in diameter with 1 inch thickness (affiliate link: may be too thick. These are 4" x 1/2" (affiliate link: Maybe you can experiment with wheel size and thickness! Yay, science.