10 Ways to Play and Learn with Springs


Metal springs are all around us. They help us write with ballpoint pens.  They help us sleep in our mattress.  And they help us drive without feeling every bump on the road.  And you know what else?  They can help us learn, too.  Math, science, art, there’s so much potential (pun intended) in these little coils.  This post contains affiliate links.

Springs make great learning fun!  Here are 10 ways to explore the physics of springs including painting, measuring, exploring, even a spring snack.

What is a Spring

A spring is an elastic object used to store mechanical energy. Although springs can come in many different forms, we generally think of the coil style of spring.  When I was researching springs, I was stunned at all the different types of springs!  Here’s a long list, but for today we’re just going to talk about compression and extension springs.

10 Ways to Play and Learn with Springs Left Brain Craft Brain featured

Springs hold elastic potential energy when you change them from their original shape. Compression springs hold energy when you push on them and make them smaller.  When you let go, they release energy and expand back to their original length.  Extension springs are the opposite.  They store energy when you stretch and release it when you let go and they shrink back to size.  The energy in springs is used to move mechanisms, hold things up, even to measure the weight of things.

Safety Note:  Springs hold a lot of stored energy which can release and cause injury if you’re not careful.  Playing with heavy duty springs should be closely monitored.

10 Ways to Play & Learn with Springs

All you need to play and learn with springs are some springs :)  I bought a box of mixed springs {affiliate}.  It has enough different kinds of springs for a classroom or several rounds of spring play at home.  The biggest thing to consider in which springs to buy is the age of your kiddo and the strength of their hands.  I found that springs with a wire diameter of less than 0.08″ was easiest for my preschooler to play with.

  1. Explore:  First on the to do list is simply play with springs.  Push, pull, stretch and spin.  Stand back and watch the awe from the littles like my daughter.  She loves playing with them!
  2. Stretch, Compress and Measure:  Get out a ruler and see exactly how far you can stretch (and compress!) the springs.  This would be a good opportunity to explore graphing with the older kids.  One way to explore springs is to see how far you can stretch a spring without it deforming and no longer returning to it’s original shape. This is called it’s elastic limit.

Stretched Spring Left Brain Craft Brain 2

  1. Have a Snack:  Peel an apple or an orange in a continuous circle.  The peel is a spring!

peeling green apple

  1. Exercise:  Grab an expansion spring with the loops on the end and add some scarves or ribbon to the end. Kids can then do some arm pulls with a big spring or play tug of war.
  2. Have a Spring Hunt: Springs are all sorts of places, many you would never expect.  Have the kiddos go on a spring hunt.  Encourage them to take apart things that can go easily back together like a pen.

Pen Spring Left Brain Craft Brain

Here are some typical places you will find springs:

  • Ball point pen
  • Car shocks
  • Wire bound notebooks
  • Mattresses
  • Wind up toys
  • Pool diving board
  • Watches
  • Door locks

Where else did you find springs?

  1. Do Some Spring Painting:  STEAM is multi-faceted and I didn’t want to leave art out of the picture.  The cool thing is that springs make great art supplies!  Pop a piece of sponge in the end and get out the paint and you’re ready for an art experiment. To help contain the mess (and this is a messy process art project!), take a cardboard box, prop it on it’s side and fire the springs inside.  There are lots of variables to explore: types of springs, size of sponge, the size of the box, amount of paint.  Adjusting these created the different types of marks you see in the picture below.

Spring Painting Left Brain Craft Brain

  1. Make a Paper Spring: We used to make these accordion springs in class when we were bored and shoot them at each other.  Book Zoompa has a great Paper Spring tutorial.
  2. Play with a Slinky: There’s a reason they still sell Slinky’s {affiliate}.  Because they’re fun!  And you can learn a lot about physics with them.  Education.com has an easy experiment with Slinky Ramps to reinforce the learning.
  3. Learn about Weight:  The Babe had a lot of fun Exploring Weight in this post from a few weeks ago. Spring scales are an amazing learning tool.  The springs inside allow you to weigh anything you can hook onto the end of it.  The greater the weight, the more the spring expands…

Preschool Science Weight Left Brain Craft Brain springs

  1. Blow Your Mind with Science: Did you know that a compressed spring has more mass than a loose one? That’s because you’ve added energy to the situation and Albert Einstein’s theory of Mass-Energy Equivalence E=MC2 applies here.

Giving Kids the Power to Create

STEAM Power Yellow

This post is week 3 in a 5 week series with some of my favorite bloggers who all love STEAM. Because learning with Science, Technology, Engineering, Art & Math gives kids the power to do almost anything they can dream up. Like make a train move or a clock run.  This week is all about ways to Harness Energy.

Tiny Dancers Homopolar Motor  //  Babble Dabble Do

Simple Circuit // What Do We Do All Day?

Rubber Band Cars  //  All For the Boys

Electromagnetic Train  //  Frugal Fun for Boys

LEGO Inspired Electric Dough  //  Lemon Lime Adventures

Mason Jar Solar Lights  // TinkerLab

Design Thinking //  Meri Cherry

Did you see last week’s Color Changing Chemistry Clock or the rest of the React posts? Or the week before where we all learned to Fly?  And be sure to follow along for the next two weeks while we Compute and Grow, all with the power of STEAM.

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