What do you know about the things your little one is playing with? Close your eyes and click for the questions.
1. In spite of all the lovely pastel things in shops and our desire to smother our delicate little newborns in pale colours, they can’t really see them properly. They see contrast and movement, so black and white and then bright red and green are the best. Babies are also very attracted to eyes, even extremely young babies can tell where a simple face made of shapes is looking and will follow its gaze. Which might not be such a good idea in a mobile.
A really simple mobile is to use a needle to thread across a lot of straws so they can spin. Pipecleaners are brighter, but unfortunately they have sharp metal ends. Simple cardboard discs with black and white patterns can also be glued to string or sewn together.
2. A spinning top is actually a simple gyroscope. When you spin it, it has something called angular momentum, which is the equivalent of normal linear momentum – it takes a force to change the speed or direction something is moving in. For a top, it would need a force to change the axis it’s spinning around. So unless something pushes it, it will continue to spin upright.
Except something does push on it – gravity. If the spin axis isn’t perfectly vertical and the weight balanced, gravity will begin to overbalance it and the axis moves around like a cone. This is called precession. As the top slows the wobbling gets more and more exaggerated until it rolls to a stop.
3. Ancient toys are extremely similar to modern toys, without the electronic bells and whistles. There are lots of rattles and dice, plus dolls and little horses on wheels – the equivalent of toy cars?
4. Personally I can’t get a car to loop but I have done it with a marble. It’s one of those things that are theoretically possible, but is anyone crazy enough to do it. I don’t think anyone’s done the forward loop, but Jeremy Clarkson of Top Gear appears to have done a barrel roll or corkscrew type loop around a tunnel. Video as normal at the end, you can join in the debate on whether it’s real. My take – I think there are different bits of footage spliced together. One is just a car going through a tunnel with lights etc. and Clarkson talking. The other is with the lights removed and a lot more safety gear happening, and probably a lot of takes! But that’s my completely uneducated opinion – I’m a biologist.
5. The toy at the top is something of an illusion. To us, he looks like he is balancing precariously. In reality, he’s hanging from the wire, something we know is simple. The trick is that most of the weight, and therefore the centre of gravity, is hanging down below the wire on the ends of the balancing stick. Then it’s just a matter of making sure each side is even and he will stand there happily.
There are some very simple instructions and pictures to make your own here. I’ve done it a similar way, but using thin wire or pipe cleaner to make the balancing stick then plasticine on the ends.
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