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Pulley Play

Age: 0 to 8+ Time: Under 1 hour
Materials: basket; rope; various "passengers"
Skills: Focus & Self Control, Problem Solving, Gross Motor, Self Reliance, Science

Do not be misled by how quick and simple this one is to set up. Pulley play will likely last for a while. And, you can't repeat it often enough. Plus, not only are pulleys just super engaging, they are super STEM learning tools. There are endless ways to experiment with pulleys. We'll offer a handful of ideas here, but if you use inquiry together, you'll undoubtedly invent many more. Invite others to play as well, and your child will get the chance to work together with other kids to experiment and share the pulley—marvelous opportunities to develop collaboration and problem solving skills too.

The Guide

  1. Set up a simple pulley: Tie one end of a rope to the handle of a basket. Tie the other end of the rope to a rock or other toss-able, heavy object. Toss the end with the rock over a tree branch and, voila, you have a pulley.
  2. Raise and lower the basket: Model once if needed, then let kids have fun with raising and lowering the basket. Wonder what happens if you pull fast? pull slow? let go?
  3. Agree on some rules: Once little ones see what this thing can do, set up some rules together for how to play with pulleys and keep everyone safe. We love to count down from 3 before we let go, for example.
  4. Add weight: Start to add different objects of different weights. We like to add a bit more each round, wondering, "Can we really lift this?!" Young children really respond to physical challenge and just love to amaze us that they can do something we appear to think is impossible.
  5. Add "passengers": Another option is to add special passengers such as a favorite toy, baby doll or stuffed animal. Wonder together about what kind of ride the passenger in question would like or how he or she might feel after each ride. Try to give different types and speeds of ride. This simple twist offers a powerful chance to build empathy and self control.
  6. Experiment: Without interrupting focused play (such an easy thing to do as an excited adult), offer "what if? questions to surface possible experiments. "What if we used this rope vs that rope? swap a larger basket? use a higher branch? construct a simple crank?" Tinkergarten leaders continue to amaze us with the variations they invent in their classes, teaching us that there is no shortage of options here.
  7. Revisit pulley play: Although our adult brains seek novelty, we are not boring parents for returning to an activity—and this is a perfect one to recycle. The child mind benefits tremendously from repetition and the chance to build on prior experience.

Why is this activity great for kids?

Pulley play supports development on many levels. Kids build motor skills and derive both satisfaction and self reliance when doing heavy work. The chance to experiment and play with this simple machine is a marvelous way to build STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills in a most age appropriate way. Consider the needs of your "passengers" and kids develop empathy and a touch of focus and self control to boot. If pulley play happens in a social group, kids can also develop key collaboration skills. Read a recent blog post to learn more about how and why to support early STEM learning for your child.

Do This Activity In A Class

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Do It Yourself

We think all families should be learning outside. Try this activity with your child and begin to see the power in outdoor, play-based learning. Have fun!

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