Submitted by Susan North, Los Angeles
For a number of years, I’ve been thinking that it would be great to build a children’s playground that illustrated the principles of physics. Of course, *every* playground illustrates the principles of physics! However, this is seldom made explicit to the children enjoying the swinging, twirling, teetering, climbing, sliding features of the yard. Here are some fun ways in which play equipment could be altered and tweaked to highlight and maximize an awareness of the physical world:
THE SWING would be situated next to a high Plexiglas wall which runs parallel to the arc of the swing. On the wall is painted the arc described by the swing in motion.
THE MERRY-GO-ROUND could have a Plexiglas floor suspended over the actual floor. Differently weighted and sized balls trapped between the two floors would illustrate centrifugal force as the merry-go-round speeds up and slows down. (I have to credit this idea to my friend Don Green, a physicist at JPL.)
THE TEETER TOTTER would be set up to double as a life-size scale, using of course the principle of the fulcrum. Various weights could be moved from their resting place near the fulcrum to notches in a rod running parallel ? or perhaps just below ? the plank on which the children sit. A child could balance his/her own weight, or two children could find a balance by adjusting the movable weights to compensate for differences the their sizes. At both ends of the plank there would be several "saddles’ ? that is, indentations indicating where to sit. That way, more than one child could sit at either end, and children could experiment by varying how close to the fulcrum they sit. (The idea of movable weights is also attributable to Don!)
THE CLIMBING STRUCTURE would be enhanced with pulleys and gears.
SLIDES of varying degrees of incline would be set up side by side. Each slide would have a slick "downside" and, next to it but separated by a low partition, an "upside" which has a slight amount of traction so that children could experience the relative ease and difficulty of going up (or pushing an object up) an incline. Balls could be sent down Plexiglas chutes to the side of the slide so that children could observe and compare how fast the balls slide down at different inclines.