Teaching sports science to kids is an excellent way to get them interested in science at a young age. Educating elementary-aged children through kids sports science activities can prepare them for their academic classes and instill them with a passion for exploration. Discover three fun sports science activities for children that will show them just how cool science can be below!
Activity 1: Sports Ball Experiment
Lots of sports, such as soccer, basketball and tennis, require the use of a ball — and all sports balls bounce differently. This experiment is the perfect project for school-aged kids because it focuses on sports, science and fun. By allowing kids to see firsthand how kinetic energy can transfer from a big ball to a smaller one, they’ll gain a better understanding of how energy constantly changes forms and transfers between objects.
Get sports-loving kids thinking about science-related concepts by encouraging them to ponder these questions during the experiment:
- Which ball do you think will bounce higher?
- How is energy transfer different between different types of sports balls?
- Why does the type of sports ball affect the transfer of energy?
- More specifically, what difference does size make in energy transfer?
Once you’re ready to conduct the experiment, these are the materials you’ll need:
- A small, light ball like a tennis ball
- A larger, heavy ball like a basketball
Here’s how to conduct the experiment:
- Find a spot outside where there’s plenty of room.
- Place the tennis ball on top of the basketball while holding one hand on top of the tennis ball and the other under the basketball.
- Release both the tennis ball and the basketball at exactly the same time and watch what happens.
After observing the experiment, talk with the kids about the science behind what happened. If you let the balls go at the same time, the smaller ball should bounce off of the larger one and fly high into the sky. This occurs because the two balls hit each other right as they hit the ground and much of the kinetic energy in the larger ball gets transferred through to the smaller ball, sending it soaring.
Explain that while the balls were being held in the air before dropping, they had a different kind of energy known as potential energy. The sports balls had this energy because of the effort it took the kids to lift the balls up. This potential energy is never lost—it simply gets transferred into other types of energy once the balls are dropped.
Activity 2: Jumping for Joy
While jumping rope has always been a favorite fun schoolyard activity, did you know it can be extremely educational, too? Challenging kids to jump rope faster can teach them basic scientific concepts like friction, gravity and centripetal force. Kids will discover that a taught rope enables them to jump faster, while a larger radius of rope requires more force to be turned quickly.
Throughout this simple experiment, encourage kids to ask questions like the following:
- Which jump rope length will result in the most jumps per minute?
- Is more rope to work with better, or is less rope easier to handle?
- Why is one length faster than the others?
- What roles do friction, gravity and force play in your ability to jump rope quickly?
Along with some essential questions, you’ll need these materials for the experiment:
- A stopwatch
- A large jump rope — about 10 feet long
- A couple of volunteers who already know how to jump rope well
Once you’ve gathered your materials, follow these simple steps to complete the experiment:
- Find an open space large enough for jumping rope.
- Get one of the volunteers to fold the jump rope in half, stand on the midpoint and pull the handles halfway between their armpits and belly button. Tie knots in the rope at this point to create the shortest rope option.
- Time the volunteer as they jump rope for a full minute. Count how many times they jump within the minute. If they mess up while the timer’s going, make sure they continue jumping and don’t restart the counting. Record how many successful jumps they had with the shortest rope.
- Readjust the rope length so the tips of the rope’s handles barely brush the volunteer’s armpits. This will be the medium length of rope you test. Have the volunteer jump for one minute again and record how many jumps they complete.
- Readjust the rope length one more time so that the tips of the handles barely brush the volunteer’s chin. This will be the longest length of rope you test. Once again, time the volunteer for a minute and record how many jumps they complete.
- Repeat this process with however many jumping volunteers you have so everyone who wants to can participate in the experiment.
After finishing the experiment, have the kids analyze which rope got the most jumps and think about why. Using the shortest rope length should have resulted in the most jumps per minute, with the longest scoring the fewest jumps. Explain how a longer rope length takes more time to come full circle, requires more effort for the jumper to turn and creates more friction when it hits the ground because it has more surface area making contact.
You can also have the kids think about whether the jump rope length affected the amount of mess-ups each jumper had. Does a longer or shorter rope make it easier to jump consecutively without restarting? Although it may be quicker, a shorter rope can catch on a less-experienced jumper’s feet more easily. Considering these details, ask the kids how they could create the ultimate jump rope for speed.
Activity 3: Creating the Perfect Parachute
Kids who are daredevils will love learning about extreme sports that require parachutes, such as skydiving or paragliding. Parachutes provide a great opportunity for teaching children about air resistance and aerodynamics. You can get kids to put their engineering and critical thinking skills to the test by having them construct their own parachutes for a conceptual sports science experiment.
Prep the kids for a parachute experiment by getting them to think about these questions:
- What makes a parachute fall more slowly or quickly?
- What’s the best material for making a parachute?
- How can we build the best parachute possible?
While the kids are thinking about their parachute design, get these materials ready:
- A plastic bag or other light material
- A small object to use as a weight, such as an action figure
When everyone’s ready, follow these steps for creating a parachute:
- Cut a large square in the plastic bag or other lightweight material.
- Trim the edges of the square to turn it into an octagon.
- Slit a tiny hole close to the edge of each side.
- Thread eight equal-length pieces of string through each of the holes.
- Tie the pieces of string to the small object being used as a weight.
- Have the kids drop their parachutes as slowly as possible from a safe high spot to test how well they work.
After everyone has dropped their parachute, discuss with the kids how the weight pulling down on the strings opens up the large surface area of material to create more air resistance and slow down the fall. The larger the surface area, the greater the air resistance and the longer it will take the parachute to reach the ground.
Once you’ve gone over the basic scientific concepts, give the kids a chance to modify their parachutes to see if they can improve on their original design. Help them think through ways to get their parachute to fall slower and straighter to keep their action figure safe.
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