Blogger Kary Henry

Preschool Outreach Programs

Last month, I began a mini-series on preschool outreach programs and wrote about a program on symmetry. This month, I’ll share a program with a physics focus.

Forces and Friction

To tie these preschool outreach programs to my traditional storytimes, I typically begin with a book. Inclined Planes by Katie Marsico, although too long to read in its entirety, offered some valuable introductory content. The preschoolers were very excited to get started in their exploration of the ramp set pictured here.

Three wooden ramps of varying heights, with either a red or yellow ball or a red car in front of the ramp.
Photo of three ramps used in program, courtesy of author.

We experimented with the ramps to see how we could make the balls and the cars (included in the set) travel further. What would happen if we made the ramps steeper? What would happen if we lowered the ramps? The preschoolers made predictions, tested with the balls and cars, and observed what happened.

We then explored the concept of friction. I offered paper towel sheets, pieces of aluminum foil, and rubber grip mats (the kind that you use to open jars or keep a cutting board in place). First, the students made predictions. Next, the preschoolers laid the various items over the ramps to test their impact on the length the balls and cars would travel. Which made the balls and cars speed up or travel further? Which made the balls and cars slow down or not roll at all? Finally, we discussed our conclusions.

Plan vs. Reality

In all honesty, the reality of the first time I offered this program was somewhat different from my nicely laid out plan. There were quite a few students in the class, which made it hard to wait for a turn. Watching the balls roll down the ramps and across the classroom floor was exciting and added to the difficulty of waiting! Like any good scientist, I made changes in subsequent outreach visits.

  • Before beginning our experiments with the ramps, I assigned jobs to the students. Some jobs included: “roller” (student who released the ball or car roll down the ramp), “marker” (student who stood where the ball/car landed), “measurers” (students who measured how far things rolled on a pre-laid measuring tape) and “retriever” (student who brought the ball/car back to the ramp).
  • I told the students that everyone would have a chance to try every job.
  • The ramps come in sets of 3, but having two complete sets, although expensive, might help with large classrooms.

Thinking Ahead

I do think this program would work well in elementary school classrooms or as part of a STEM-focused in-house program. Next month, I look forward to sharing an algebra program. Until then, if you have any preschool outreach programs that you offer, I’d love to read about them in the comments!

This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: I. Commitment to Client Group, III. Programming Skills, and V. Outreach and Advocacy.

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