Family: Simple Machines

This summer, which seems far away now, I hosted a simple machines storytime for ages 3-7. It was a learning opportunity for both me and those who attended so I thought I’d share it.

While most children will eventually get an introduction to simple machines in our local schools, I decided to introduce the concept at the library to the summer storytime crowd. During a recent Sound & Music Storytime when we explored electricity I realized that many of the storytime aged kids could begin to understand the basics of seemingly advanced concepts. With an introduction, they could use the foundation to then explore the concepts more in-depth later on, either at home or in school.

These kinds of programs give kids lots of hands-on experiences they may not have at home and they offer great opportunities for strengthening vocabulary, one of the early literacy skills children will need when they are ready to learn to read. This storytime  engaged kids who may not be as interested in the usual art activities, but want the opportunity to observe and test theories and ideas.

I did quite a bit of research for this storytime so I would be able to answer as many questions as possible during the program. To have a background in simple machines, I consulted several books in my library’s collection and then found my way to two books designed for educators including Science is Simple by Peggy Ashbrook (Gryphon House, 2003) and Explore Simple Machines! by Anita Yasuda (Nomad Press, 2011). Three websites were also particularly helpful: the Simple STEM wiki, Science for Kids- Simple Machines and Kindergarten Nana’s blog.

I knew this storytime would seem a bit abstract at first for kids and some adults so I took time to clearly explain and talk about what we would be doing. I created slides in the Keynote presentation app on my iPad to show kids what I was referring to as I described the different simple machines and their purposes. The slides included examples of pulleys, levers, wedges, wheels, and inclines. I also brought in physical examples of some of the smaller machines, for example a door wedge, a metal pulley, a hammer, chopsticks, etc., to go along with the images in the slides. i made sure to let everyone know they would have time to experiment with the machines later on.

We also talked about what a machine is and why engineers and designers create them (to make tasks and jobs easier or possible).  That basic concept was the premise for the rest of the program and kids really got it.

It was storytime after all, so we read together. I chose two books that are popular storytime reads at our library and feature simple machines.

Tap Tap, Bang Bang by Emma Garcia (Boxer Books, 2010)
This book highlights the use for a variety of tools and offers the opportunity for young readers to guess what the tools are being used to build. Many of the tool names were new vocabulary words for some storytime kids.

Tap Tap Bang Bang by Emma Garcia Image Credit:

Tap Tap Bang Bang by Emma Garcia Image Credit:

Rattletrap Car by Phyllis Root (Candlewick Press, 2001)
This story features an engaging tale of a family trying to get to the lake in an old car that keeps breaking down. The family each come up with creative substitutions for the parts of the car that fail, including a beach ball for a wheel. The book includes a repeated verse that has lots of fun sounds and words to play with as I read it aloud.

Rattletrap Car Image Credit:

Rattletrap Car by Phyllis Root Image Credit:


The next part of storytime featured a series of stations that I had staged before storytime. This part was a little tricky in our library because storytime happens in the children’s library not in a separate storytime room and kids are sitting or walking through as they enter the activity/craft area. Fortunately, the families are patient and waited a couple of minutes as I pulled out some hidden stations and then explained each of them. Because adults don’t always hear every instruction, I added signs and brief written instructions at each station so I and the teen volunteer could move around the room and would not need to stay at one station.


I attached a small pulley to one of the “trees” in the room. I first asked kids to try to lift a bucket full of glue bottles with one or both hands above their heads. I then asked kids to try and lift the bucket over their head again using the rope threaded through a pulley (rope was attached to the bucket at the other end).

Pulley Station

Pulley was hung from tree.


This set up took some creativity, but offered lots of play. Again I asked the kids to try and lift the tub of books up the top of the toy bin. It was too heavy so then kids pulled the tub of books up the incline. They also pushed it back down and then climbed up and down the ramp.Kids could have done this for hours and several adults were heading home to build an incline of their own after storytime.

To make the incline, I brought in an old piece of plywood I had at home and leaned it up against on of the library’s toy bin. I brought a plastic tub from my office and filled it with various picture books.

Incline Station

Kids pulled box up the incline.


I got creative at this station and used our rhythm sticks as wheels to show kids what was possible. I took another tub of books and asked the kids to try and push the box across a space with just their bodies. The tub was heavy and awkward so then they tried to move it on top of the rhythm sticks. When the time came, I showed them how to move sticks fromt he back and put then under the front to keep the tub moving.

Wheels Station 1

Wheels Station 2

Kids used the rhythm sticks as wheels to roll the heavy box from one place to the other.


I found some scraps of wood at home to make a rustic seesaw, a kind of lever. I built the basic seesaw and left miscellaneous blocks in a pile nearby so kids could make each side balance. The best part of the program was when the little girl pictured wanted to use a cardboard box as a fulcrum and made it work! Very cool!


Kids balanced weight on each side of the lever.

Lever Station 2


Because we have a limited space and there were so many stations this week, I had coloring sheets of screws and other simple machines on the tables for kids to work on if they were waiting for another station or just wanted a different experience. Screws are actually simply inclined planes wrapped around a core, so I chose to skip that machine when planning the hands-on stations.

2 thoughts on “Family: Simple Machines

  1. These are great suggestions for incorporating science topics into storytime! I have read Tap Tap Bang Bang to my toddler group – they loved it! And Rattletrap Car was one of my kids’ favourites – it is so great to see it still being enjoyed over a decade later! I love the hands-on activity ideas too – I am keen to get a few preschool science storytime/activity times on the schedule where I work so thanks for the ideas! Plus, so nice to meet you in person at ALSC Institute!

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