Teach your child to engineer their own pulleys!

You can easily make your own simple machines at home, to help your children learn to enjoy engineering their own solutions. 
Pulley Science Experiment to help kids learn about simple machines - great for science fair project for kindergarten, first grade, 2nd grade, 3rd grade, 4th grade, 5th grade, homeschool, summer learning, and more.

Wow! That's easier. In our age of complicated machinery, it's easy to forget that even the most complicated mechanics are just a large set of simple machines. We use complicated machines for parts of our lives, and too often stupidly grunt through tasks when a little bit of ingenuity would make the task much easier.  

Pulleys can be used to make various types of elevators, or in converting fly wheels to useful energy as in an old fashioned mill.

Pulleys Experiment

(Use cans to make your own pulley)

Why pulley's work

Pulley's are used to redirect the the tension in cord of some kind . By allowing the work to be done in the same direction as gravity, They pulley allows an object to be lifted with less force. Every pivot point exerts upward force on the system, again decreasing the amount of force needed. Of course, all this decrease in force comes at a cost. Each pulley also increases the distance over which the force will need to be applied. These are all lessons your child can figure out for himself with his own pulley system.

Two sizes of cans to make pulleys

Materials for making your own pulley

  • Large box or sheet of cardboard.
  • Cans of two different sizes from the recycle bin
  • Yarn or rope
  • A bottle of water
  • Small bucket
  • Weights. I used our Picasso Tiles, but any object would work. Rocks or Silver wear could be good solutions as well.
  • Hot glue
how to make a single pulley simple machines science experiment for kids

Setting up the Pulley

If you are working with older students, allow them to set up their own pulley experiment by gluing the cans in what they think may be optimal positions.

If you are working with younger students. Glue the small cans in a couple of rows so that they can experiment by hooking up their pulley in various ways.

Place the larger cans over the smaller cans to make a pulley that turns easily.

Experiment with your pulley

Attach one end of the string to the bucket, and the other to the bottle off water.

Tell your child to draw a picture of your pulleys. In two different colors draw two different ways that the string could be looped through the pulleys. Write a paragraph explaining which set up will move more easily and why.

Loop the string over the pulleys

Add weights until the bottle of water moves. (Hint: Only fill the bottle half way for easier lifting.)

Try a different configuration and repeat. 

After your child has experimented with a few different set ups, ask them to write a paragraph explaining how using more or less pulleys changes the force needed to lift something. Ask them to explain how the spatial relation of the pulleys changes things.

how to make a double pulley simple machines science experiment for kids

Take your pulley to the next level

If your child is ready for more of a challenge, ask him or her to engineer a system which uses pulleys and another simple machine such as a lever or zipline to move a cup of water from one point to another. 

Can he or she think of an easier way to refill water glasses at the dinner table? Maybe when you're outside for a picnic? What task can your inventor make easier with pulleys?

More Simple Machines for Kids

Christy McGuire is a former AP physics teacher, and current mother of 4. She and her children enjoy exploring science and math together. Head over to Thriving STEM to find more science, technology, engineering and math ideas to use with your kids.  Follow along on FacebookInstagramPinterest, and Twitter.

Beth Gorden
Beth Gorden

Beth Gorden is a homeschooling mother of six who strives to enjoy every moment with her kids through hands-on learning, crafts, new experiences, and lots of playing together. Beth is also the creator and author of 123 Homeschool 4 Me where she shares 1000+ free printables, creative homeschool lessons, crafts, and other fun ideas to help preschool and homeschooling families have fun while learning and exploring together.