Swings, slides and climbing structures are loads of fun. And they offer first hand experiences with pendulums, ramps, and levers, not to mention forces such as gravity and friction. Just paying some attention to how things move provides children with important early experiences in physics. Turn your local play area into a science playground with these simple activities.
On the swing: Motion is a basic concept in physics—and young children safely tucked into a swing are experiencing motion firsthand. This makes for a perfect opportunity to describe what is going on, so that your child builds language around motion. Using simple words that are quite normally part of your every day vocabulary as your child swings—words like back, forth, high, low, up, down, push, pull, pump, and others—will build important descriptive language that is significant in physics. So, engage in lots of talk (don’t hesitate to do most of the talking if necessary) as a way to build this language.
On other playground equipment: Your child will experience other kinds of motion and change in position when on different pieces of playground equipment. You can build the language of physics when you describe this kind of motion and position, such as when you and your child slide down the slide, climb a ladder together and look down at the world from a platform.
In the sandbox: Very young children are apt to feel most at home in the sandbox. Here they will move sand by digging, pouring, using trucks, etc. As your child investigates the sand, describe what she is doing and likely to be feeling with comments such as “You’re using your shovel to dig a deep hole! You’re pouring the sand to fill up the big bucket,” and “This wet sand is a different color from the dry sand.” These kinds of descriptions help your child build language about physical properties of materials—in this case, sand.