Friday, February 22, 2013

Exploring Machines in Preschool

This is my third year teaching preschool, but it's my first year to teach a unit on machines. In the past, it's always been intimidating. Exactly how do you teach 3, 4, and 5 year olds about machines? This year, I took the plunge and I was blown away at how much they understood about machines. Here is the approach I took to teaching machines in preschool. 

What is a force?

We read the book And Everyone Shouted Pull, by Claire Llewellyn. This is a great book to teach about forces. The book follows a group of animals as they take their goods to the market. They push and pull their wagon to get it to the market. 

After we read the book, I set out materials for the students to explore. While they were exploring the materials, I encouraged them to use our new words; force, push, and pull.

Another fun activity to go along with force is balloon rockets. You can read about them at

Simple Machines

After learning about force, we moved on to simple machines. The first machine we learned about was wheels and axels. 

Wheels and Axels

We read the book Wheels and Axels in Action, by Gillian Gosman. I love this series for teaching about simple machines. The books are short and simple, but yet still full of great vocabulary, pictures, and explanations. I read a few sections word for word, but mostly summarized in a way my preschoolers would understand. After reading the book, I set out cars, pipe cleaners in beads, and other items in our classroom that had wheels and axels for the students to explore. 


We read the book Screws in Action, by Gillian Gosman. The book uses lots of everyday items, such as water bottle lids, to explain how screws help to hold things together. After reading the book, we went on a screw hunt around our school. We found screws everywhere!

Inclined Planes

We weren't able to read this book, because it wasn't in at our local library. But we still talked about inclined planes. We used blocks from our block center to make inclined planes for our cars. We experimented with putting the planes at different angles to see what would make the cars go faster or slower. 

Levers in Action

We read the book Levers in Action, by Gillian Gosman. Did you know scissors are two levers held together by a screw? While we read the book, I could tell my students had a harder time understanding how a lever worked. But when we did the activity after, they started understanding levers. 

To make levers, I hot glued two small popsicle sticks together to make them wider. Then I hot glued a marker lid to the bottom. I made some with the lid in the middle and others had the lid more towards one side. I did this so the students could experiment to see which one made a pom pom go farther. 

For the activity, I grouped my students in pairs and gave one the lever with the fulcrum (lid) in the middle and the other student had a lever with the fulcrum towards one side. They worked together to see which lever would make the pom pom fly the farthest. My students loved this activity! We still have the levers in our block center over a month later!


The library didn't have this book available either, and we ran out of time in our unit. So we didn't explore wedges this year. But if you have any great ideas please share them!


We ran out of time to do pulleys as well. So please share any ideas you have, I'm hoping to fit more into our unit next year. 

Building Our Own Machines
After exploring force and the different types of simple machines, the students designed their own machines. First, they decided what they wanted their machine to do. Then, I had them draw a "blue print" of their machine. I prompted them with questions like "If the machine is going to . . . then what shape does it need to be?", "How is the machine going to . . .", "What button do I push to get it to . . . ". 

After everyone had designed their machines, we started making a model of their machine. I had asked the parents ahead of time to donate materials. (boxes, soda bottles, buttons, things from their junk drawers, etc.) The students helped pick out the items for their machine and my teacher's assistant and I hot glued their machines together. They turned out really great. It did take a lot of time though, so next year I think I'm going to have them work in groups of three so their are less machines to put together. 

This machine shoots out balls. You put a ball in the hole in the front and it shoots it out the tube on the side. 

This machine reads books to you. It's "face" is the shape of a heart and her name is Heartla. 

This machine gives you bubble gum! Yum!

That's our unit on machines! I'm glad to say I'm no longer intimidated by teaching about machines. I'd dare say it may be one of my favorite units now! 

Happy Teaching!


  1. I'm so glad I stumbled across your blog. I was searching for ways to introduce simple machines to my preschoolers and this will help me so much. Thank you!

  2. Thanks for your fabulous ideas. In my inventors class (for age 2 - 7) we did a whole unit on simple machines and we used some of the activities you describe here. Read about them all at