Playground Science II – Slides

by Deb on June 18, 2010

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It’s been a while coming, so many other things to write about!  But this is the second in the Playground Series on science children encounter around them. Slides are about gravity, potential energy and friction.  They’re also about fun, and we play with them regularly – as well as people, there are all sorts of interesting things you can send down a slide!


Gravity we all know about, it is the force pulling us into the earth.  It pulls the same on everything, no matter how big or small it is – 9.8 metres per second per second.  That’s not a mistake, gravity isn’t measured as a speed but an acceleration – the longer you fall the faster you get.  So if it was just about gravity everyone would go down a slide at the same rate.  But slides aren’t falling they have friction involved as well, which slows things down.  In the video we sent several things down the slide and saw how far they went, the differences come down to friction.


Believe it or not, slides are machines for converting energy.  Energy changes between kinetic, or movement, and potential energy.  Potential energy is stored energy – it is the potential something has to move, like a stretched elastic band.  When you climb up a slide you are using kinetic energy and turning it into potential energy, height.  At the top of the slide you have lots of potential energy and no kinetic energy, but then as you go down it changes so you have more and more movement and less and less potential, until at the bottom it is all movement and no potential.  We played around with this by pushing things up the slide.  They go up, slow down and pause, then come back down again.  Once again, you can see the variation in friction affecting how far they go.  This is because it takes energy to overcome friction, so if more of the energy is going in to that there is less available for going up and down.


Finally friction, after seeing how it controls everything else!  Friction is all about microscopic bumps catching on each other, if you put one hand on top of the other and push you will see it in action.  The three objects we’ve been using have different strengths of friction because of the size of their bumps.  A ball has very low friction because it rolls, not slides, so the bumps don’t get stuck.  The long, silky hairs of the teddy bear are very smooth and can move apart to go around things, so it only has medium friction.  The doll clothes not only have fairly large bumps because of the threads, but they are very loose and bunched up which makes more bumps so they have a lot of friction.

When you are walking up a slide you need friction to help you fight the gravity pulling you down.  The sand where we were filming was wet and sticky, but between the shoes and the slide it acted as tiny rollers or ball bearings.  This meant Molly was trying to roller skate up the slide, which wasn’t going to work.  Bare feet with sand would have the same problem a bit, but not as much because the sand can dig into the skin of feet which holds it steady.  For clean shoes the main factor is the size of the tread – a large tread pattern like on running shoes tends to have big smooth patches without many bumps.  The best thing is clean bare feet, because you have a fantastic pattern on your feet just like fingerprints.  In fact climbing is the reason it exists – our feet were originally used for climbing trees then for scrambling on rocks, both things that are a lot more like climbing up a slide than walking around in shoes.  So the ridges on your feet are just the right size to cause lots of friction and help you climb.  Personally I think the best playground toy would be a square platform with 4 slides coming off it, so everyone can climb up them!

Did you notice the suggestion from Molly?  That’s experimentation in action!  She’s observed that she’s falling down and predicting that bare feet might work better, then wanting to try them.  A mini P.O.E!

There’s a lot more to do on a slide than just sit on it and slide down, we haven’t even looked at all the different ways you can sit and lie and how your clothes change it, and all the different toys you can use on them.  What can you do on a slide? This post is part of We Play at Childhood 101.

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Dionna @ Code Name: Mama June 18, 2010 at 10:33 pm

Excellent! Kieran has loved rolling things down the slide – often cars. We talk about the objects’ weight and how easily the wheels roll. I’ve never introduced the term friction, but I will next time!
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Deb June 22, 2010 at 8:58 am

Funny, the girls love cars but we haven’t done that yet. Thanks!


Lauren @ Hobo Mama June 19, 2010 at 4:12 pm

This was great! Mikko was enjoying the video, but he most enjoyed feeding the fishes in the sidebar. 🙂 But I think I (re)learned a thing or two.
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Deb June 19, 2010 at 5:15 pm

The fish are a big hit here, too. And I admit I feed them whenever I’m on the site, I feel a bit guilty if they’re neglected 🙂

I’m loving putting the videos in, takes a bit of editing but it’s something new to add.


The Bipolar Diva June 19, 2010 at 5:45 pm

Thank you so much for coming by my blog tonight and for the wonderful comment you left. So encouraging! I;m following you now and look forward to diving right in now!
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Hear Mum Roar June 20, 2010 at 11:16 am

I love it! Little scientists in action! It’s great when kids are encouraged to experiment with cause and effect
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Deb June 22, 2010 at 9:01 am

I love how natural it is – that’s such a normal thing for a little kid, but as parents we don’t listen out for it because we don’t expect it. I always try to remember when I catch them being scientists 🙂


Kristine June 21, 2010 at 11:26 pm

the lovely thing about winter is sliding down in stockings – so much faster!


Deb June 22, 2010 at 9:02 am

And such lovely static to play with when you get to the bottom! The little one’s hair sticks out everywhere.


Marita June 22, 2010 at 11:33 am

Annie and Heidi had lots of fun at the beginning of the school year learning about static electricity on a big covered slide at an indoor playcentre. The girls thought it was fascinating the way their hair stood up when they went down the slide. Annie took it one step further and tried to see if going down the slide faster and more often made more static. Then we came home and played with balloons making our hair stick up. Slides are so cool 😀


amandab June 22, 2010 at 2:02 pm

oh! I was at a play centre yesterday and had a go on all the slides and I noticed that it was the covered slide that was bursting with electricity!

I also noticed that the blow up slide was not particuarly bouncy and nearly twisted my ankle with a bad landing….

And as for the slide that seems to be an almost 90% drop! Terrified!
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Jade June 22, 2010 at 4:59 pm

Nice! I like it. What an informative post, I adored science in school.


Marthese June 22, 2010 at 9:52 pm

very cleverly done…well done

Reply June 23, 2010 at 5:48 am

Thanks for all the science action words associated with what we do on playgrounds. 🙂


Christie - Childhood 101 June 28, 2010 at 11:21 pm

I love that the science is so evident in their play experiences. The videos are a fab idea:)
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