Funicular Trains: Pulleys for Kids
What in the world is a funicular train and why would I want to make one with my kids?
Quite simply, because they are so cool! This is a simple pulley system you can make at home to teach your kids about simple machines and physics basics. And it can lead to some pretty fun creative play.
Here is how to make an easy funicular train at home for hours of fun!
DIY Funicular Train
This seriously is one of those things that sounds impressive but takes less than 5 minutes to set up. And you probably already have everything you need.
- Yarn or string
- 2 Bendy Straws
- 2 Plastic Cups
Cut the straws so they are the same length on either side of the bendy part.
Cut a piece of yarn about 4-5 feet long. Thread it through both bendy straws and tie it off. Cut off the excess yarn so the knot is small.
Tape one bendy straw to the wall. (Tip: If you put it around a doorknob it will be even stronger.) Aim for about as high as your child is.
Stretch the yarn so it is taut and tape the other straw to the floor.
Take one cup and tape it over the knot. (This prevents the knot from getting stuck in the straws. Take the other cup and tape it on the opposite side.
Now you have your train in place!
(The picture above shows how it all comes together really well.)
How To Use Your Homemade Funicular Train
Now the fun part, you get to play with it! Put a small toy into one of the cups and pull on the string to lift it up and down your train!
This is fun to do with Lego or Mega Blok building projects. It’s great for homemade doll houses as an elevator. Just let your kid’s imagination explode!
Of course, we have to add some science to this fun.
A pulley is a simple machine. There are six main types of simple machine:
- Wheel and Axel
- Inclined Plane
These machines are basic devices used for applying force and doing work. This is work in a physics sense, which is defined as a force being applied to an object so that the object moves in some way.
Basically, these 6 things are used to create all more complicated machines. Simple machines were first described by Archimedes back in ancient Greece, so they have been in use for a long time. If you take a look around your home you will see a lot of these machines in use!
What we made with our straws and string is not an exact pulley in that it isn’t a grooved wheel with a rope. But it does the trick. Pulleys are used to lift heavy weights. They reduce the friction in the system making it easier to move objects.
Since we have more than one pulley, we have created a compound pulley system with your funicular train. (There are more types of pulley, fixed pulley systems and movable pulley systems.) Two pulleys are working together to lift and lower the loads you put into the cups.
Creative STEM Fun
This physics project is one you can do time and time again. I love that you can tie in an art project by making the setting for your train.
Create a mountain for toys to climb. Have a construction site where you build a skyscraper. Run a high rise hotel where guests have to go up and down the elevator.
My personal favorite is to set up a ski lift for your child’s toys. We made a hill out of cardboard box and our funicular train was the lift. Use craft sticks to make skis for your toys and let the fun begin!
Open-ended play with a STEM twist? It works.
Check out these other fun learning activities!