Children and motion

What is in motion in your classroom, in addition to children? Spinning tops are one of the materials I keep available all year long because they can be an independent or collaborative activity, children’s ability to spin them increases as they grow, and spinning tops is an exploration in physical science. The October 2011 Science and Children is all about motion—read to learn more about teaching children about pushes and pulls. 
Spinning tops in school to learn about symmetry, force, and motion.
Motion is explored on the playground using large tubes for children to roll on or in.
Spinning tops can be part of learning mathematics. Young children can sort tops by size, weight, and shape, then record which top needs the biggest twist-push to begin spinning, and which top spins the longest. The concept of symmetry can be introduced. Children can observe the wobbly motion of a top made purposefully off-balance by the addition of a sticker on one edge or a crown (center post) placed off-center but measuring tiny differences in weight-distribution which affect how well a top can balance is too difficult. After several weeks of child-initiated play with tops, a few four-year-old children were able to predict that a top with a post placed purposefully off-center would not be able to spin. Younger children could not make a  prediction or guess and had to try spinning the top. They lost interest when it “didn’t work” and did not investigate it further.
When a top “doesn’t work,” young children may not investigate possible causes such as slowed spinning due to an uneven surface, a loose crown (center post) making the top off balance, or too little strength in the child’s spin. Keep a variety of tops available and support children, before they walk away, with direct instruction on how to grip and turn the top’s crown to make it spin.
When children draw the motion of spinning tops, they show what they know and provide data for later discussion of motion.Conversations and group discussion can help children build an understanding of the motion of an object.  I have children draw the motion of an object (rather than the object itself) and we use the drawing to talk about the push or pull needed to get the object moving and to make it stop.
Older children may be interested in making their own tops using stiff paper and sticks, short pencils, straws, or sections cut from wooden chopsticks. Children will probably need help with the task of balancing the top by making sure the post is in the exact center and the body is a precise  circle.
The Spinning Top & Yo-Yo Museum invites you and your class or other group to be part of International Top Spinning Day on Wednesday, October 12, 2011, by spinning a top anytime and anywhere. You can let the world know how many participated by reporting your spins on the museum website. Last year there were more than 20,000 spins!
Child explores and experiences motion while using a large wide hoop to roll on and in.Spinning motion can be explored outside on spinning playground equipment. In this setting the children can feel the motion and pulls and pushes as they spin around. Child twirls light plastic balls in bowls to see and feel the motion.Provide drawing materials as children explore and document the motion of themselves and other objects—swings, wheels on toy cars, slinkys, hula-hoops, and balls in bowls. 
The Spinning Top & Yo-Yo Museum notes that tops are known all around the world:
Argentina Trompo, Australia Kiolap, Bulgaria Pumpal, Cambodia Too loo, Denmark Snurretop, Ghana Ate, Greece Sbora, Iceland
Skopparahringla, India Lattoo, Japan Koma, Korea Pang-lh, Mexico Trompo or
Pirinola, New Zealand Potakas, Puerto Rico Chobita, Russia Volchok, Sri Lanka
Pamper, Switzerland Spielbreisel or Pfurri, Taiwan Gan Leh, Turkey Topac, United
States Top, and Venezuela Trompo or Zaranda
What name do you call these toys that teach science concepts?

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5 Responses to Children and motion

  1. Valarie Roberts says:

    It’s ironic that I located this article here tonight, because we received an email this morning about our school being qualified for the free resources that comes with this initiative. It’s great to see that students are being challenged to move more in the classroom, because many of them don’t get the exercise they need at home and in turn juvenile obesity is more prevalent than in the past.
    I look forward to implementing this program in my classroom curriculum.
    V. Roberts

  2. S. Sheffield says:

    As a fourth grade teacher I find this concept very interesting. I have always found tops interesting and am often found spinning coins like tops. I think it would be interesting to intergrate spinning tops into a lesson on simple machines and ask students to find different ways this object coule be used to complete work.

  3. Kathryn Wilson says:

    This is great! I am the collab. teacher and we find ourselves needing to move quite often. The idea of using spinners as an inquiry tool is great and a possible center!

  4. Peggy Ashbrook says:

    Valarie, S. Sheffield, and Kathryn,
    I look forward to hearing more about how you use, and teach about, motion!
    You might want to see what resources are shared by teachers in the NSTA Learning Center Elementary Science forum, in the “Force and Motion with Kindergarten” thread.
    Here are two NSTA resources in print and/or e-book:
    Force and Motion: Stop Faking It! Finally Understanding Science So You Can Teach It by William C. Robertson. 2002. NSTA Press: Arlington, VA. This book is also available as an e-book at
    Uncovering Student Ideas in Physical Science, Volume 1: 45 New Force and Motion Assessment Probes by Page Keeley and Rand Harrington. 2010. NSTA Press: Arlington, VA. Order at
    I found that I learned best if I just took my time as I did the activities given as examples in the books, and didn’t worry about being “right.”

  5. shaily says:

    how can basic arithmetic be taught to children of early classes?

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