Kinetic Energy Activities for Kids

Grab a beach ball for a quick demonstration of motion energy.
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Toddlers and preschoolers are prime examples of kinetic energy -- the energy of motion. Little ones are always on the move! You can introduce your child to kinetic energy by slipping entertaining science activities into his day. He’ll have fun, and won’t suspect he’s learning. Of course, you can’t get too technical at this age, but with the right activities, your little Einstein will soon realize that speed and mass are at the heart of what makes things move.

1 Everyday Life

Kinetic energy (movement) is the opposite of potential (stored) energy. Don’t say those words to your little guy though -- he'll think you're speaking a foreign language. However, you can point out the two forms of energy when the opportunity arises. When a leaf is on the tree, it has potential energy. When it falls to the ground, it becomes kinetic energy. Say, “Look at that car sitting at the stoplight, Billy. Do you think it will start moving soon?” “Wow! That lady is standing on top of the diving board. Let’s watch her jump into the water.” “Blow on this pinwheel and see how fast you can make it spin.”

2 Bowling

Gather up some plastic bottles and you’ll soon have your own homemade bowling set. Your child can help you decorate the “pins” with stickers. You’ll probably want to leave them empty for this age group. Add a little sand in each bottle to give older children a tougher challenge. First, tell your little one to try to knock the pins down with a small, light ball. “Now let’s see if it’s easier with a bigger, heavier ball, Sam.” He’ll be experiencing the fact that mass makes a difference in the energy of motion.

3 Paper Airplanes

Remember all the fun you had making paper airplanes? Your child will love them, too. Tell your little one to muster up a bunch of energy in her arm so she can sail her paper plane through the air. Have contests to see whose plane flies a greater distance.

4 Billiard Balls

Pool balls are a good example of how one moving object can work on another object. Your child can use his hands to roll a ball and try to knock it into another ball, where he’ll easily see the transfer of energy. You can create this same idea by using a large cardboard lid and plastic balls or tennis balls. Who knew science was so much fun?

5 Matching Pictures

Cut out pictures that show an object at rest and the same object in motion. This could involve an apple on the tree and an apple falling off the tree. How about a skier at the top of the hill and a skier skiing? You could cut out a picture of a baseball player ready to bat and a baseball player swinging the bat. Help your preschooler match the pictures. Talk about them. “What’s the baseball player doing in this picture? What is he doing in the other picture?”

6 Object on a String

Connect a string in a doorway or underneath a table. Tie one end of the string to an object such as an apple. Tell your child to tap the apple and watch it move. Ask him how he could get it to swing even more. Say, “Let’s see how high we can count before the apple stops swinging.” He’ll be watching kinetic energy convert to stored energy as the speed gradually decreases. Yep, he’s going to be the science star when he goes to kindergarten.

Karen LoBello is coauthor of “The Great PJ Elf Chase: A Christmas Eve Tradition.” She began writing in 2009, following a career as a Nevada teacher. LoBello holds a bachelor's degree in K-8 education, a secondary degree in early childhood education and a master's degree in computer education.