Kids generally love science, and with good reason since it taps into their natural curiosity. Here’s a fun, simple activity we like to do at the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum that you can easily do at home — and you probably have everything you need in your home right now! It’s called “Build a Ball, Make a Ramp.” Two of the perks of this activity are that it gives kids an opportunity for free play and helps them learn about simple machines.
In a nutshell – this activity basically provides the supplies for your child to build a ball, and then a ramp to roll their ball on.
You won’t need all of these, just round up whatever you have at home.
• Rubber bands
• Scraps of fabric/washcloths
• Paper plates and cups
• Rulers/paint sticks
• Twist ties
• Foam sheets
• Plastic wrap
• Aluminum foil
• Plastic containers
We usually don’t provide tape at the Museum because it makes the kids be more creative (and it also helps keep the materials in good shape so they can be reused). Even if you’re not sure how a supply may be used, put it out — I’m always amazed by the innovative things our visitors do and you may be amazed too by your child’s creativity.
Build a ball
Using the supplies you set out, let your child build a ball. It can be as simple as rolling some Play-Doh or modeling clay into a ball or a more complex ball made from scrunching up fabric and securing it into a ball shape with rubber bands. Let your child experiment with the supplies. When they start rolling their ball, they can experiment with what kind of ball rolls faster, straighter, longer…
Build a ramp
Now that you have a ball, it’s time to build a ramp. Ramps can be simple like a sofa cushion leaning against the sofa or a more complex structure made from different supplies that stretch out across the room. Focus on the free play aspect of this activity. Try to avoid directly telling your child in what to do, but rather try to encourage him or her to think about what works well. Does the ball roll faster or slower if the ramp is higher or lower? Does your ramp need structural supports to keep it up — if so, what shapes are more structurally sound? Does the texture of the ramp surface make a difference? Time the ball as it rolls down the ramp. Change the ramp slightly to see if the speed changes. Experiment with different balls and different ramps to see how they work.
Most importantly — have fun!
Take the next step:
- Take a virtual tour of the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum Exhibits.
- Try out our DIY bottle rocket activity.
- Check out our tips for keeping curiosity alive during the summer.
Nichole Wright is the Public Programs and Volunteer Manager with the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum. She received her master’s degree in chemistry from U-M, where she realized that she wanted to go into teaching. Her role at the museum lets her do just that in a super fun environment. C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital is proud to partner with the Hands-On Museum to bring some of the adventure of the museum Mott through regularly occurring activities for our Little Victors at the hospital, as well as their siblings. You can learn what activities are scheduled at the hospital during your visit by checking in with our Family Center on Level 2.
University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital is consistently ranked one of the best hospitals in the country. It was nationally ranked in all ten pediatric specialties in U.S. News Media Group’s “America’s Best Children’s Hospitals,” and among the 10 best children’s hospitals in the nation by Parents Magazine. In December 2011, the hospital opened our new 12-story, state-of-the-art facility offering cutting-edge specialty services for newborns, children and women.