Ever since the first bit of powder hit the ground, my children have been unable to go day without sledding down the hill in our backyard at least once, if not continually for several hours. But all this outdoor play, all this connection with nature, it isn’t just physical exercise. And it isn’t just good for morale either. It is a true opportunity for hands-on learning.
You see, children are better able to grasp new concepts when they have experienced them first hand.
And sledding just happens to be an excellent way to experience Newton’s Laws of Motion.
Now, it isn’t a perfect way to explore the laws of motion too in depth. Things get a little muddled if you have to include factors such as gravity and friction. But for an introductory lesson, this is a great hands-on way to learn the three laws of motion.
The first law of motion:
An object’s velocity (speed in a given direction) will not change unless it is acted on by an outside force. In other words, an object in motion will stay in motion, an object at rest will stay at rest.
The object at rest in this situation is the person sitting in a sled on top of a hill. That sled with that person isn’t going anywhere until someone or something causes it to move.
The second law of motion:
When an object is acted on by an outside force, the strength of that force equals the mass of the object times the resulting acceleration (force = mass x acceleration).
If the object is a person sitting in a sled on a hill, then the outside force would be themselves or another person choosing to push the sled down the hill. The force in which the sled was pushed can be calculated.
The third law of motion:
For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
Pushing the sled down the hill results in the sled, and its accompanying person, to slide down the hill and generally a little bit further once they have met with flat ground. Factors such as force with which the sled was pushed and mass of the sled and its rider (among other things) contribute to how far the sled will go once it has reached flat ground.
Now, for the fun part.
Get a stop watch and a measuring tape. Time your child’s sled run down the hill and measure how far they slide once they hit the flat ground at the bottom. Record the results.
Your child can alter how fast they slide down the hill and how far they go once they’ve reached flat ground by tweaking the factors a bit. Change the force, change the mass. Use a different type of sled, weigh the sled down with something heavy.
Make sure to measure and record the results of how each change effected the sled run and compare those changes to the original, unaltered sled run results from before you started tweaking with it.
What did you find?
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