Force Can Push or Pull

In this lesson, children will explore force and motion concepts as they play with boxes and objects found around the classroom.

Content Area:

Force and Motion

Learning Goals:

This lesson will help toddlers and preschoolers meet the following educational standards:

  • Develop foundational skills in the use of science practices such as observing, asking questions, solving problems and drawing conclusions
  • Explore concepts and information about the physical, earth and life sciences
  • Understand important connections and understandings in science and engineering

Learning Targets:

After this lesson, toddlers and preschoolers should be more proficient at:

  • Developing and using models to represent their ideas, observations and explanations 
  • Exploring the physical properties of objects   
  • Exploring the concepts of force and motion
  • Using tools and technology to assist with scientific and engineering investigations
  • Carrying out simple investigations
  • Exploring the effect of force on objects in the early childhood environment
  • Generating explanations and communicating ideas and/or conclusions about their investigations

Force Can Push or Pull

Lesson plan for toddlers/preschoolers

Step 1: Gather materials.

  • The book, Sheep in a Jeep, by Nancy E. Shaw (author) and Margot Apple (illustrator) 
  • Boxes and/or laundry baskets
  • Objects of various weights to push and pull in boxes and laundry baskets

Note: Small parts pose a choking hazard and are not appropriate for children age five or under. Be sure to choose lesson materials that meet safety requirements.

Step 2: Introduce activity.

  1. Explain that today we are going to use boxes/laundry baskets and objects to learn about force and motion and cause and effect.
  2. Introduce the vocabulary words force, motion, cause and effect.
  3. Read the book, Sheep in a Jeep, by Nancy Shaw.
  4. Discuss how applying force to something means giving it a push or pull. The harder you push or pull, the more force is acted on it.
  5. Discuss what happens when we put different objects into the boxes or laundry baskets.

Step 3: Engage children in lesson activities.

  1. Bring in a couple of boxes or laundry baskets.
  2. Organize the children into groups and instruct them to experiment with pushing or pulling the boxes/laundry baskets when they are filled with objects of various weights (maybe even a child).
  3. Ask: “Which objects will require more force to push or pull? Why?”
  4. Encourage the children to make predictions and conduct experiments to test out their theories about which objects will require more force to push or pull.
  5. After the children have experimented, ask them to discuss cause and effect. Say: “When you put the heavier items in the boxes or laundry baskets, did you have to apply more or less force to move them?”
  6. Ask the children to draw conclusions based on their investigations.

Step 4: Vocabulary.

  • Cause: Something that gives rise to an action or condition
  • Effect: The result of a physical action
  • Force: The push or pull on an object that causes it to change velocity
  • Motion: Movement from one place to another
  • Position: The place where you are (if you change your place, you are moving)
  • Push:  The force to move an object away
  • Pull: The force to move an object closer

Early Science Glossary

Step 5: Adapt lesson for toddlers or preschoolers.

Adapt Lesson for Toddlers
Toddlers may:
  •  Use a large box and a group of toddler friends to learn the simple vocabulary of push and pull
Child care providers may:
  • Play a  simple game of push and pull
  • Push a toy car, pull a wagon and introduce vocabulary
Adapt Lesson for Preschoolers
Preschoolers may:
  • Take this investigation over to the block area and try adding inclines to expand this lesson to include investigations into speed and gravity
Child care providers may:
  • Extend this activity by adding weight, friction and other “obstacles” to change speed and direction

Suggested Books

  • Forces: Physical Science for Kids by Andi Diehn (author) and Hui Li (illustrator)
  • Oscar and the Cricket: A Book About Moving and Rolling by Geoff Waring
  • Push and Pull by Patricia J. Murphy

Music and Movement

Forces Can Push or Pull” performed by Jack Hartmann

Outdoor Connections

  • Conduct this activity outdoors on slides, ramps and hills to extend the learning and add science vocabulary such as balance, friction and speed to the lesson.

Web Resources

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