Physics toys are toys whose action can be explained using physics principles. That means many toys can be physics toys! Toys are interesting and motivating for children. Make them educational by learning the science behind them! Here are some STEM activities from my collection.
Safety note: Be sure to explain safety precautions to children. The physics toys for experiments use magnets and very small objects. Never let any child under 6 play with magnetic toys unsupervised. Never put a magnet in your mouth. If powerful magnets are swallowed, they attract each other internally and cause extremely serious injury. Disclaimer: All information provided on this site is for entertainment and education purposes only. Using any information from thecasabouquet.com is at your own risk.
Affiliate links: if you make a purchase using these links, I’ll receive a small compensation towards maintaining this blog, at no extra cost to you.
Instructions for physics toys
Balancing bird. Any object has a center of gravity. For this bird, the center of gravity is on the beak, allowing it to balance and even spin without falling! Notice how the wings are heavy and flared forward. Try to find the center of gravity of objects by balancing on your finger. Start with a pencil or pen, then try less symmetrical objects.
Bernoulli demonstrator or the floating ball. Blow air into the tube and it lifts the ball. The stream of air is below the ball, then has to “split” and go around the ball, then join back together above the ball. This sets up a difference in air pressure around the ball. Try rotating the pipe so the blown air is not going straight up. Does the ball still float? This experiment will also work with a beach ball and leaf blower!
Tops spin on a small point cutting down on friction that allows the top to spin longer. Friction would slow down the spinning motion.
- Top Secret has a battery in the bottom piece that sets up a magnetic field with the spinning of the top. There is a coil of wire in the base, which acts as a magnet with the current from the battery.
- Rattleback is a special type of top. Notice that it is not symmetrical on the bottom. If you push on one side it will spin in one direction. Pushing the other side will make it spin in the opposite direction. Try actually holding it and giving it a good spin. Watch what happens!
Clacking balls. The balls are the same size and mass. When you get them moving, if one hits the other, all the energy is transferred to the second ball. You put energy in the system by rotating the handle. The balls swing like pendulums. What happens to the ball that has just hit? Another similar toy is Newton’s Cradle.
Diffraction glasses. The plastic in the lenses is full of tiny slits. This is known as a diffraction grating and is used in experiments to separate the colors in light. Different colors or wavelengths of light bend differently as they enter the slits.
Balancing fish. Carefully observe the angle cut on the tail and the hole for the bottle. Carefully insert the long neck of the bottle into the hole and work on getting it balanced. Does this work with a full bottle and an empty bottle? Gravity is the force that would be pointing down to make the fish and the bottle fall. How do they need to be arranged so they don’t fall?
Fortune Teller Miracle Fish is made of cellophane. It is a hygroscopic material, meaning it takes in water molecules. Place it flat on the palm of your hand. The side touching your hand is absorbing water. What do you observe about how it curls? Do both sides of the fish behave the same? I always keep the envelopes they come in to help get them back to flat after use.
Tanz Marie, the dancing ballerina. The company that made these has gone out of business, but play with one if you get a chance (there are videos of her on YouTube!). Marie has a heavy round base with a magnet and a rectangular mirror that also has a magnet. The magnetic fields interact with each other and Marie spins and dances. The north pole on the mirror magnet will repel the north pole of the dancer’s magnet and cause it to turn. If you’ve got one (or the similar Robby the Seal), use compasses to map the fields of the magnets.
Walking toy has legs that can walk on a surface, a string attached to the front, and a weight that will hang over the edge of the table. The weight has to be heavy enough to pull forward on the string to make the toy walk. These toys used to be very popular but are extremely hard to find now. The fun part is seeing if the toy will keep walking off the edge of the table. If the weight is correct, the toy will stop as soon as all the string is pointing straight down. There is no longer a forward force on the toy.
Let’s talk story
I have hoarded my physics toys all through my career. I’ve found that other science teachers have a similar stash. It made me sad to find how hard some of these toys are to find any more! I know time moves on, and kids play with technology these days, but there is something missing. Visual and kinesthetic learners really need the physical fun of playing with these types of toys.
- Best Physics Toys from Physics Central
- Physics Toy Store blog from Physics Fun
- Next Generation Science Standards by grade and core ideas.
- Force and its representation from The Physics Classroom
- Diffraction grating and spectroscopy from UNSW Physics
- Magnetic fields from Excel at Physics
- Bernoulli Ball from Little Shop of Physics