Play With Scales!

Scales and balance boards offer kids hands-on, accessible ways to explore scientific concepts like cause and effect, weight and balance, and simple machines. They also offer practice using super scientist skills, like comparing, making predictions and testing solutions. Here we share three of our favorite ways to make a homemade scale to help kids explore weight and balance in playful ways.

The Guide

Get inspiration from a story!

Watch the video read-aloud of Balancing Act by Ellen Walsh. Then, choose one or more of the tools below to explore weight and balance together. 

#1—Coat hanger scale

Prep your scale.
To make your own super balance tool:
  • Gather a clothes hanger with notches, two paper cups and some string. 
  • Make holes on either side of the cups and tie each side of a piece of string to the holes, creating a handle for your cups. 
  • Hang the two cups from the notches in your clothes hanger. 
  • Gather nature treasures (e.g. rocks, pine cones, small sticks, leaves) of various sizes and weights.

Introduce your scale and invite play. 
Use another piece of string to hang your coat hanger from the branch of a tree using string. Show kids how the scale works by putting a nature treasure in one of the cups. How does the scale move when something is added to a cup?

Explore your scale! 
Leave the scale in place and welcome kids to continue adding different objects to tip their scale. As feels supportive, offer some of these prompts:
  • Put something in each of the cups. How does the scale show which thing is heavier?
  • How can you make the scale balanced?
  • Put a heavy object on one side of the scale. Slowly start adding lightweight objects to the other side. How many of the lightweight objects do you need to balance the weight of the heavier object?

#2—Wooden balance board

Prep your balance board.
  • Gather a flat wooden board and a building block or section of a 2x4.
  • Find a flat surface outside and place the building block underneath the middle of the larger flat board to make a fulcrum.
Introduce your balance board and invite play.
Explore how the balance board works by pushing down on one side with your hands and then the other. Wonder together if you can push on both sides of the scale to make it balance.

Explore your balance board!
Invite kids to use their bodies to explore the balance board. As feels supportive, suggest some of these ways to explore weight and balance:
  • Step up on the board and place one foot on either side of the center (the fulcrum). Can you make the board balance?
  • Stand on one end of the balance board and invite a family member or friend to stand on the other end. What happens? How can you make it balance?
  • Give stuffed animals friends a turn to try out the balance board. Which stuffed animals are heaviest? Can stuffie friends balance the board as they play?

#3—Cookie sheet scale

Prep your scale.
  • Gather a cookie sheet, paper towel roll or rolling pin, and duct tape.
  • Gather nature treasures (e.g. rocks, pine cones, small sticks, leaves) of various sizes and weights.
  • Turn your cookie sheet over and secure the paper towel roll or rolling pin to the middle of the sheet with tape.
Introduce your scale and invite play.
Push down on one side of the cookie sheet and then the other to show how it works. Then, offer your collection of nature treasures and wonder what kids can discover about these treasures using their balancing tool.

Explore your scale!
  • What happens when you add something to one side of the cookie sheet? 
  • To both sides? 
  • Can you make the scale balance?

Keep exploring balance! 

Try out some of these ways to continue exploring balance through play:

  • Balancing Bodies: Use household or natural objects (e.g. bean bags, pieces of fabric, stones, rope) to create a series of obstacles that kids can walk along and jump over. Welcome your child to test out their balancing skills-—and, if you have time, test yours out, too! Invite your child to test their balance on the obstacles with arms down, out to the side and up in the air. What happens when they walk slowly? Quickly? Can they keep a stuffed animal or nature treasure balanced on their head? Get more ideas in our Animal Obstacle Course DIY.
  • Stacking Stones: Gather some stones and invite kids to stack them to make a tower. Do this on uneven ground, and the challenge becomes even more difficult. Give kids the chance to build, topple, and rebuild stone towers, and they’ll really start to "get" these fundamental physics concepts. Read the entire DIY here.
  • Build Like Beavers: Beavers are masters of balance who build incredibly solid dams and lodges. To play like busy beavers, grab some cardboard boxes, paper towel tubes and recycled containers and invite kids to build. As they build, topple and rebuild, they’ll learn valuable lessons about weight and balance.

Why is this activity great for kids?

There is no doubt that kids will need strong science literacy skills to thrive in our ever changing and challenging world. The good news is that kids are natural scientists—we’ve just got to give them the environment that can help those innate skills strengthen as they grow. Direct, hands-on experience with big STEM concepts gives kids a strong, real-world context to build on later.  Learn more about how you can support your problem-solver through play here.

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