Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Water Wheels

Back when we were exploring ramps, Jelly Bean and Jumping Bean had a great time making a water ramp.  So we decided to have more fun with water by constructing a water wheel as we continue to learn about wheels and axles.  To begin, we researched exactly what a water wheel does and looked at different pictures.  In short, a water wheel creates energy to power another machine by using water to turn an axle. 

First, we had to create the wheel by gluing two plastic plates together. 

Next, cups were taped to the side of the plastic plates.  The cups resembled the buckets on a water wheel.  This was the perfect opportunity to discuss the orientation of the the cups and how they need to be facing the same direction.  We also practiced spatial reasoning as we taped the cups onto the wheel.

Our water wheels are finish.  Now we just need to put an axle in the middle of our wheel.

Once the axle was added, Jelly Bean and Jumping Bean took turns pouring water over the cups to spin the wheel.  After predicting which would be better, pouring water over the open end of the cup or over the bottom of the cup, we came to the conclusion that both worked the same.

Jelly Bean and Jumping Bean right away thought this would be a great Ferris Wheel.  I think that will be our next exploration with wheels!

  • 2 plastic plates
  • 8-10 plastic cups
  • glue
  • tape
  • rod for the axle
  • water
  1. Put glue on the bottom of two plastic plates.
  2. Flip them over on top of each other to create a wheel.
  3. Poke a hole in the center of the wheel for the axle.
  4. Tape plastic cups to the side of the wheel going all the way around.  Make sure the cups are all facing the same direction.
  5. Put the rod through the hole in the center of the wheel to create the axle.
  6. Pour water over the cups of the water wheel.
  7. Watch the wheel spin.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Reinventing the Wheel: Moving Heavy Objects with Rolling Logs

Building on all our wheels fun {here and here} we decided to look at how people in ancient times moved heavy objects - basically how they think the wheel was first invented.

To start off I asked Bug to select a heavy board game from our games cupboard.  The goal was to move the box from one mark on the floor to another about 6 feet away on our hardwood floor.  We lined the box up with our start line and she gave a mighty push!

Although the box slide quite well it did not go the whole way.  So after asking how we could improve our results Bug suggested that we attach some wheels to the box.    I pulled out some wooden dowels and asked if they would work:

She thought it was a great idea as they were round and could roll.   We played around with a few layouts but none seemed to fit under the box just right! The box either did not fit or slid right off.

When Bug finally figured it out she was so happy.  Upon mommies encouragement she added a few extra dowels underneath. She gave it a gentle push and it moved forward but she was rather upset as a dowel popped out the back.  Bug looked at me and reminded me in her 4 year old way that I had forgotten to attach the wheels.  This was a great point to talk about how they think that when the wheel was first invented they used rolling logs from trees - a bigger version of our dowel rods.  In a way we were re-inventing the wheel.

We then spoke about how if we put that rod in front of our box we could roll the box onto it and another dowel would pop out.  We could continue to roll the box forward by taking each dowel that popped out the back and put in under the front.  

With great care we slowly and surely made it from the one end to the other.  She was so proud of herself for getting it there so carefully.  A few of the dowels did start to bunch up together under it and so we spoke about how we wanted to try and spread them out so that one side of our box did not fall on the floor.

We hope you have fun reinventing the wheel too!


  • wooden dowels (at least 4)
  • heavy board game box


  1. Mark a start line on a hardwood floor and line the box up.
  2. Give the box a push and see how far it goes.
  3. Show how the wooden dowels roll on the floor and allow the child to play with placing them under the box.
  4. Lay the dowels out evenly and lower the box down.  Push it forward until a dowel pops out the back.  
  5. Take the dowel and place it at the front and roll the box onto it and forward until a dowel pops out the back.
  6. Repeat until you have completed your distance to travel.


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Wheels: The Center of a Ball

When kids are young, it is hard for them to differentiate between something round (a sphere) and a circle.  To them, they are both round.  Comparing a wheel and a ball, kids may also thnk they are both round.  A wheel is round, but it is not spherical in shape.  It is circular.  To find out how easy it is to use the simple machine wheel and axle, we examined how a wheel is part of a sphere.   We then wanted to explore which would be easier to use- a ball or a wheel.  To demonstrate, Jelly Bean and Jumping Bean challenged each other in a ball rolling race- this was not easy.

The ball was definitely hard to control.  It was not easy to roll it in a straight line- the girls were running after it everywhere as they tried to roll it around the chair!  So we looked at how we could change a sphere into another shape to see if it would be easier.

I cut the sides off the styrofoam balls we were using for our race to show Jelly Bean and Jumping Bean that a circle is the center of a ball.  This circle looked a lot like a wheel.

After some questioning on how we can roll the wheels, putting an axle on was suggested.

An axle on one wheel just did not work.  Oops, it tipped right over!

After brainstorming and thinking about wheels we see everyday, Jelly Bean and Jumping Bean came up with the conclusion that there needs to be two wheels on the axle.  Rolling the two wheels on an axle was much easier to control, and it went in a straight line.  Yay, success!


  • 2 styrofoam balls found at craft stores (ours were 5 inches in diameter)
  • pencil or stick for axle
  • serrated knife for parents to cut off the sides

  1. Child will roll the styrofoam ball from a start point to an end point to see that the ball does not roll in a straight line.  We made a game out of it and raced around a chair back to the starting point.
  2. Parent will cut off each side of two styrofoam balls leaving the center of each as the wheel.
  3. Poke the pencil through the center of the wheel acting as the axle.
  4. Roll the single wheel and axle and discuss why the wheel does not move far.
  5. Place another wheel on the opposite side of the axle.
  6. Roll the wheel and axle again and discuss that with two wheels, it moves easier and in a straight line.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Wheels Make It Easier To Push Daddy Around!

So far we have examined how we use simple machines to make it easier to do things:  we have discovered that it is easier to pull something using a pulley and that ramps or inclined planes can make something roll down faster.  We now introduce our new simple machine: the Wheel and Axle.

We started by examining how wheels make it easier to move something.  Daddy happened to arrive home as we were about to start our activity and so he became our test subject!

I put a board out on the driveway and asked daddy to sit on it. I told the girls that daddy wanted to go for a ride around the driveway - could they please move daddy around.  Well they pushed and pulled but daddy did not move.

(Please pardon our hair in the these pictures but we have severe helmet hair from riding our bikes in the southern afternoon heat).

So we asked them what they like to ride around the driveway and they said their scooters.   After thinking about what makes our scooters so fun:  go fast and easy to push or ride.  We took a closer look and decided it was the wheels that made that all happen.  So what if we put wheels on the board?

After putting the scooters under the board we asked daddy to sit back on.  Boy, were there giggles as they pulled daddy along the drive way!  Until....

... we got a bit off balance.  Bug was definitely better at pulling her scooter along and so her side go ahead of little Bear and the board hit the wheels and did not go any further.   This lead to a fun discussion about how the board was like an axle and we need to keep the wheels inline with each other.   So daddy took a turn "driving" our contraption around...

...and the girls zoomed back and forth along the driveway.   We really enjoyed this activity and the girls played with it for a while even if it got a little off balance.

We can't wait to see your pictures of your kids pushing daddy around too ;-)


  • 2 scooters
  • 1x8 plank (from the scrap discount wood part at our local hardware store)/container that would fit on the scooters


  1. Place the board or container on the ground and ask someone to sit on it.
  2. Ask the other person to push them around on the plank.
  3. Lift the plank onto 2 scooters and have someone sit on the plank again.  {Make sure your scooters are in line with each other}
  4. Now try and push the person on the plank again.