Learning to balance counterweights is a useful skill for young kids, and a balance scale is a great way to teach them. By making a balance scale, you can start a solid foundation in physics in a single afternoon. All you need to get started are some simple household items.
Making Buckets for the Scale
Use a hole punch to make holes in 2 small paper cups. Punch 2 holes in each cup. Make the holes close to the rim of the cups and on opposite sides.
- If you don’t have paper cups, you can make the buckets for your balance scale with plastic cups instead.
Cut 2 pieces of twine that are each around 1 foot (0.30 m) long. Any kind of twine will work, but a thick, strong twine will make the balance scale more durable. After you cut the twine pieces, lay them next to each other to make sure they’re the same length. If they’re not, cut them with scissors to adjust their lengths.
Tie the ends of the twine through the holes in the cups. Use 1 piece of twine per cup. When you’re finished, the twine pieces should form thin handles on the cups, like the cups are little buckets.
Putting the Scale Together
Find a notched clothes hanger. A plastic, metal, or wooden hanger will work, as long as it has a notch on both sides of the hook. Otherwise, the paper buckets will slip and fall right off the scale.
- If you don’t have a notched clothes hanger, you can use some more twine to tie the handles on the paper buckets to the bottom of a regular clothes hanger so they don’t fall off.
Hang the buckets on the clothes hanger using the twine handles. Hang the cups on opposite sides of the clothes hangers in the notches. When you’re finished, lift up the scale and hold it by the top to examine the buckets. Both buckets should be hanging at the same level — if one is higher than the other, you’ll need to adjust the twine handles.
Let your kids decorate the buckets on their new balance scale. Put out stickers, markers, and crayons and let your kids personalize the scale. They’ll enjoy playing and learning with it more if they get to add their own personal touch.
- One way to decorate the scale is to help your kids write their names on it.
- Don’t attach anything too heavy to the buckets or it could interfere with how the scale works.
Using the New Scale
Hang your balance scale on a door knob. Door knobs are great to hang balance scales from because they’re low enough for kids to reach them. If you can’t find a door knob to use, look for any kind of handle or bar you can hook the clothes hanger onto.
Help your kids look for objects to put on the scale. Any kind of object will work, as long as it’s small enough to fit in the paper buckets you made. Some fun objects you could try weighing are:
- Your kids’ favorite small toys.
- Different rocks that your kids find outside.
- Small fruits like strawberries, blueberries, and grapes.
- Have the kids experiment putting the different objects in the cups. When the object in 1 cup weighs more than the object in the other cup, the heavier cup will sink and tip the scale. Explain to your kids that the lower bucket has the heavier object, and the higher bucket has the lighter object.