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Exploring forces

The idea that forces are acting upon stationary objects is a tricky one, as children associate a push or pull with a force and this often results in the movement or change in shape of an object.

Children exploring forces and then trying to explain them is a good way of moving the learning on. If you have previously asked them to draw force diagrams to elicit their ideas, then they can refer back to their diagrams and modify them after they have explored the forces for themselves.

Children may have previously thought that if an object is still then no forces are acting on it. By including an example of a heavy object and a compressible surface, such as a piece of sponge, they can consider how a surface may provide a pushing force to support the object resting upon it. They can see the sponge squash when the object is on it and compare this to the same object on a table, which doesn’t get squashed. Gravity is the same on the object, but the table exerts more of a push than the softer sponge.

The images below show some of the activities that could be set up for children to explore and discuss what they think is happening:

1. Weight on a sponge

A kilogram mass resting on top of grey sponge, depressing sponge

2. An inflated balloon

Party balloon inflated and suspended mid air

3. A toy boat in a bowl of water

Toy boat floating on the surface in the middle of a bowl of water

4. A toy car on a table/ramp

Toy car at rest on a table Toy car rolling down a ramp

5. A floating magnet

Magnetic fish 'floating' underneath a magnet, with wire attached below to prevent it meeting the magnet

6. A book on a table

A book at rest on a table


Look at the examples provided and say which of the exploration activities you think the children will find most difficult to explain? How could you support children to explore and ask further questions to move their learning on?

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This article is from the free online course:

Teaching Primary Science: Physics

National STEM Learning Centre