Preschool children are fascinated by ramps. Preschoolers enjoy playing racing games with small cars and other wheeled toys and building ramps out of unit blocks give the children a chance to zoom their cars over and over again. If your class is showing an interest in zooming cars and building roadways, it may be time to some science lessons for preschoolers on ramps. There are several scientific theories that can be learned from building ramps such as speed, gravity, velocity, as well as several simple principles of physics and engineering. Building ramps gives children the fun of zooming cars, but can also teach important skills such as cooperation and teamwork.
Children at Work: Ramp Play
If you notice your class showing an interest in building roadways for cars in the block area, it may be a good time to introduce ramps. Usually, all it takes is a simple introduction from the teacher to get the children started building on their own.
- Unit blocks
- Flat unit blocks
- Small cars or other wheeled toys
- Camera to document the ramp building
Show the children how to build a simple ramp by placing a flat block on top of a unit block. Demonstrate how to put a car on the top of the ramp and let it go, letting the car zoom down. After introducing this simple ramp, give children a chance to experiment on their own. At this point, the less teacher direction the children have, the better. It is important for the children to make discoveries about ramps on their own, at their own pace.
The natural progression of the ramps, if children stay interested, is fascinating to watch. Often, children will see that the cars do not stay on the ramp and may veer off to the side, opening the possibility to create walls for the ramps. Quite often by mistake, a child will realize that tilting the ramp up higher will make the car go faster, inviting children to build higher and higher ramps, often resting on walls or windowsills. Children may build tunnels for their cars to zoom through, or bridges or dropoffs. All of these things should be encouraged.
Observation and Documentation
The teacher's role when introducing science lessons to preschoolers on ramps is mostly as an observer. Note when the children are ready to progress to another level of thinking and add new materials to the play. Some things to try are toilet paper or wrapping paper tubes, flat pieces of cardboard or stiff paper, or even velcro, felt or astroturf to slow down the "zoom" on a ramp.
Be sure to take pictures of the children's creations when they are building the ramps. Display these pictures prominently in the block center so children may copy or refer to their older engineering feats in order to improve upon a design. Make sure to jot down any conversations the children have concerning the "zoom" factor, the height of the ramps, or any scientific observations they may make. All of these observations can be gathered into a class book when the ramp phenomenon begins to wear off.
"The Art of Awareness: How Observation Can Transform Your Teaching"; Deb Curtis and Margie Carter; 2000
"The Block Book"; Elisabeth S. Hirsch; 1996
Photo credit: Kara M. Bietz