Home School Life Journal

Home School Life Journal ................................................................................................................painting by Katie Bergenholtz

Elementary Physical Science (Grades 1-4)

Weeks 1-4: Simple Machines: There are six simple machines. Compound machines are made up of two or more simple machines.
  1. Copywork: Machines are designed to make work easier for people. People use simple and complex machines all the time. All machines require a force to move. Force may be a push or a pull. The force may come from gravity, human effort or electrical energy.
  2. Vocabulary words: work, force, effort, fulcrum, energy, load, simple machines, compound machines
  3. Read about Sir Isaac Newton and gravity. 
  4. Drop unbreakable objects of varying sizes and observe how they move. Add other forces and predict how the movement will change.
  5. Ask the student to hypothesize how to measure the amount of force it takes to move an object. Have him collect a variety of objects and arrange them in order according to how much force it will take to move them. Then have him measure each object to see if his order was correct.
  6. Friction is a force that acts against or resists motion. Discuss some of the sources of friction such as brakes, rubbing on carpeting, and rough surfaces. Have your student roll a variety of objects on a smooth surface and then a carpet or rough surface and then write an explanation telling why the objects acted differently on the two surfaces.
  7. Explore the concept of inertia. What happens when you hit the brakes suddenly? Why does your body continue to move forward? Discuss other occasions when an object tends to continue what it is already doing.
Weeks 5-8: Levers: A hammer can be used as a kind of lever. This type of machine helps to move things with less force.

  1. Simple Machines: Levers
  2. A first class lever has the fulcrum between the effort and the load. Give the student a ruler and a thread spool or pencil. Set them up to look like a lever. have the student identify the fulcurm (spool or pencil). Place a load such as a rock or some quarters on one end of the lever. Ask him to push on the lever to lift the load. Have him identify the force (student). Have him record all observations in his science notebook.
  3. Have student experiment with moving the fulcrum by moving it into different positions under the ruler and have him describe the effect that has on the amount of effort needed to perform the work. Have him record each movement in his science notebook. Have him write the conclusion once he reaches it: The closer the fulcrum is to the load, the less effort is needed to lift the load.
  4. Go to the playground and experiment with the student on moving the force to lift the load. You sit on one end of the seasaw. The student should have difficulty lifting you into the air. Have the student experiment with where he can place his body on the other end of the seesaw to make the work the easiest.
  5. A second class lever has the load between the force and the fulcrum. Use a wheelbarrow to illustrate a second class lever. Fill it with a load. Have the student draw a picture of himself pushing the wheelbarrow and label the fulcrum, force and load.
  6. A third class lever has the force between the fulcrum and the load. Have the student sweep the floor with a broom. The broom is a lever. Have him analyze what are the fulcrum (top arm and body), force (bottom arm) and load (dust). Have him draw himself sweeping and label the parts of this lever.
  7. Have student identify/draw examples of first, second and third class levers.
  8. Have the student gather a variety of tools (hammer, crowbar, bottle opener, dolly, suitcase on wheels, etc.) and have him categorize them into first, second and third class levers.

Weeks 9-11: Wheels

  1. Wheel
  2. Go on a wheel walk and have student either sketch or take photos of the various wheels he sees.
  3. Demonstrate how wheels can make work easier. Have the student pull a wagon across grass upside down.
  4. Have the student roll a marble across an uncarpeted floor. Ask the student measure and record in his science journal how far the marble moved with a single push. Have the student propose what caused the marble to stop. Discuss friction. How are marbles like wheels?
  5. When combined with an axle, the wheel makes work easier. Use a plastic lid from a coffee can to make a simple wheel and axle. Poke a pencil through the center of the lid. Hold both sides of the pencil and rotate the lid across the floor. Have the student draw the wheel and axle. Can your student build other wheels and axles with the things around the house?
  6. Explore wheels around the house. Allow the student to take some of them apart and explore how a wheel and axle work together. Gears are wheels with teeth. The teeth allow one gear to turn another gear, Have the student explore and draw gears, analyzing how they make work easier.
Weeks 12-14: Pulleys: A pulley can be used to lift loads more easily, such as to hoist a flag or sail.
  1. Show the student several pulleys. Teach the student to name the parts of a pulley (wheel, axle, frame and rope). A pulley and rope work together to make work easier. Have student sketch pulleys in his science journal and label the parts.
  2. With the student, build a pulley system in a tree or tree-house in the backyard or with a board over the backs of two chairs, if you want to do it inside. Attach something heavy for the student to lift to one end of the rope. If nothing else comes to mind, you can use a gallon milk carton filled with sand. Have the student sketch the set up in his science journal. Ask the student to lift the weight without using the pulley. Then use the pulley and compare the perceived amount of work.
  3. Have the student experiment with pulley arrangements. Help him set up a movable pulley. Have him sketch this arrangement in his science journal. Ask him to compare the two pulley arrangements. Have the student compare the differences between the movable and stationary pulley systems.
  4. Have the student set up a double pulley system. Have him experiment with and then sketch the double pulley system. He should note in his journal in some way that the more pulleys combined, the less force is needed to lift a weight. 
  5. Field Trip: Have your student speculate how materials might be lifted to workers building a 20-story structure. If possible, visit a construction site where steel beams or concrete is being lifted using pulleys.
Weeks 15-18: Inclined Planes: A ramp up to a building is an example of an inclined plane. This type of simple machine can be used to move things from a lower place to a higher place, and vice versa.
  1. Inclined Plane and Wedge
  2. Set up  a simple ramp with a stack of books and a board. Place an object at the top of the ramp and let go. Have the student observe this and other objects as they move down the ramp. Ask the student, "What is causing the objects to move? What is creating the pull or push? If the student doesn't mention gravity, you might bring it up as a force pulling objects toward earth.
  3. Have the student try to lift a box filled with books onto a table or chair. Have the student push the box of books up a ramp. Discuss the difference in the amount of force required to move the box with and without the ramp. Discuss how the ramp actually requires you to move the box a longer distance but with less force.
  4. Conduct an experiment to show mechanical advantage. Tie one end of a short string to a toy truck and the other end to a rubber band. Measure the length of the string and rubber band without stretching the rubber band. Then, lift the truck straight up by hold the rubber band. Hold a ruler up to the rubber band and let the student read how many inches it is stretched. Have the student sketch the set-up. Next lean a board against a shoebox and pull the truck up the ramp. Compare the amount the rubber band stretched by measuring it as before. Help the student write a conclusion i n his science journal about the fact that using less force by sing the ramp and tell him this is called Mechanical Advantage. Include this in the student's science journal.
  5. Give the student a 3' long board and a 6' long board. Have him lean them both against the same shoebox and compare the angles of the slope. Ask him to predict which ramp the truck will move up with the least amount of force. Have him conduct an experiment testing his hypothesis.
  6. Have the student explore gravity and friction. Have him predict what will happen when he puts the truck and then a flat object at the top of a ramp and then carry out the experiment. Discuss what happened and why. What part did wheels play in reducing friction?
  7. In his science journal have your student draw a sketch of a mountain with a flag on top and a person standing at the bottom. Ask the student to draw a path from the person to the top, and then ask him how a person might feel after walking straight up a mountain. Next, ask the student to draw a path that would require less effort but would cover more distance. Guide him in drawing a path that zig-zags up the mountain. This back and forth movement of the road up a mountain is a series of inclined planes. Draw another mountain with a road spiraling around from top to bottom and make note of the fact that this inclined plane is like a screw. Field Trip: If the opportunity is possible, go on a trip up a mountain road so that he can see how roads are built to lessen the force needed to get an automobile up them. Or, go on a hike up a mountain or steep him and have the student go straight up the slope and then try walking back and forth. He should be able to feel the difference in the amount of effort required.
  8. A screw is used to hold things together. Have the student put a fingernail in the groove at the tip of the screw and turn the screw. He should notice that the fingernail travels up the screw like the car up a mountain. The  screw is also an inclined plane. Have some scrap wood and some screws available for him to work with. Make note of the fact that small bits of wood travel up the threads of the screw as it enters the wood.
  9. Have your student observe a staircase and ask him to compare the stairs to an inclined plane. Notice that it is a ramp angle with steps up into it.
Weeks 19-21: Wedges and Review
  1. Allow the student to work with and observe the jobs of different wedges. Gather together a pin or nail, an axe, scissors, cookie cutter and a door wedge, Some wedges join things together. Some wedges split things apart. A wedge may raise and hold something in place. In order to use a wedge, a lever must almost always be present. The lever guides the wedge. Have your student identify the levers in the wedges you presented him (the handle of the axe, the parts of the scissors, etc.) Have your student notice when observing the axe that the two parts of the cut material move up the sides of the wedge along inclined planes. Note that a wedge is another type of inclined plane. Have the student sketch a variety of wedges in his science journal and explain how each one works.
  2. You can discuss the wedge's role in history. Demonstrate this by having the student imagine how people long ago moved a huge boulder or block of stone. This fits in especially well with Ancient Egyptian pyramid study. Have him discover how a wedge can be placed under the object to be move. Discuss how the angle of the wedge raises the boulder off the ground so it can be rolled or slid onto a card and carried away.
  3. Field Trip: Arrange for a tour of a factory with large machines and conveyer belts. Have the student look out for examples of each of the six simple machines with in the complex machinery. Have the student write about his visit to the factory, including some sketches of the machines he saw, labeling the simple machines within them.
  4. Pull out several examples of simple machines around your house such as a can opener, a drill, a corkscrew, a hammer, a screwdriver and a knife. You could also have pictures of things too large to put on a table such as a crane, a steering wheel and a dolly. Have him sort them by the type of simple machine they fit best.
Week 22: Simple Machines Test Questions
  1. Have your student sketch a picture of each of the six simple machines in his science journal. Based on the drawings, assess whether the concept needs review.
  2. Have your student design in his science journal a compound machine that performs a useful task. Have him label each simple machine in the drawing.
Weeks 23-27: Electricity
  1. Read and learn how an electric charge (static and current) occurs.They are both made up of the same particles, but static electricity does not move like current electricity. Static electricity is not used as a source of power. Positively and negatively charged particles crackle harmlessly when you walk across a carper or comb your hair on a dry day. 
  2. Here is a demonstration involving static electricity called Dancing Parsley. Have your student put one pinch of parsley flakes in a Styrofoam cup. Rub the cup against his hair or a piece of wool. Rub in only one direction about 30 times. Have your student look inside the cup, and sketch in his science journal what he sees.
  3. Unpeppering the Salt: Another fun demonstration can be done by putting about a teaspoon of salt and a pinch of pepper on a piece of paper, mixing them together. Have your student comb his hair about 20-30 times and then hold the comb over the salt and pepper mix. Try using a brush instead of a comb. Did more pepper jump onto the comb or the brush? How high can you make the pepper jump?
  4. Copywork: A battery provides a source of electricity and wire conducts electricity. The three parts of an electric circuit are the source, the conductor and the use, such as light bulb. Electric current conveys energy from one point to another.
  5. Go to the library and get out books on Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklin, Andre Marie Ampere, Michael Faraday, Hans Oersted, Samuel Morse, Alessandro Volta. Have your student pick one and write about them in his science journal
  6. The electricity that powers things in our homes is called current electricity. Discuss how life would be different without electricity. Try going through some part of the day without electricity or recall a day when the electricity went out due to weather or some other circumstance.
  7. An electric current is the movement of particles, called electrons. In order to have electrical energy, the electrons must flow in an uninterrupted loop, called an electrical circuit. To make a complete circuit, you will need a size C battery for the electrical source, a 6" piece of insulated wire and a flashlight bulb. Strip an inch of the plastic coating off each end of a 6" wire using sandpaper. To do this, bend a piece of sandpaper over the last inch of the wire and twist and pull as you hold the sandpaper between thumb and forefinger. Place one bare end of the wire on the bottom of the battery. Place the base of the bulb on the top center of the battery. Touch the other bare end of the wire to the brass of the bulb. This will make a complete circuit. Have your student explore different arrangements of the three parts of the circuit and sketch his discoveries in his science journal.
  8. A conductor is anything an electric current can flow through Using a variety of household items (such as a key, pencil, fork, nail, button, eraser and mirror), have the student predict which will be the best conductors of electricity. Have him then test each object by placing the objects one at a time between the bulb and the battery to see if it will conduct the electricity and still complete the circuit.
  9. When a complete circuit is closed, the bulb lights. The switch in a light switch can interrupt the flow of electrons by separating conductors somewhere in a closed circuit.
  10. Read about lightning and safety. How can you avoid being a conductor for lightning?
Weeks 28-34: Weather
  1. Help your student make a weather station and then learn to use it. This should take several days.
  2. Have your student make a line graph showing the changes in temperature over several days.
  3. Have your student brainstorm the ways weather affects different people. What jobs depend on certain weather? How does weather affect feelings? For what reasons do people listen to or read weather forecasts? Why do people talk about the weather? Ask your student how the weather affects him. 
  4. Have your student research how weather develops. In what part of the atmosphere does it develop? How many miles above the earth is weather formed? Why is it not made further away than that? What four conditions are necessary tor making weather?
  5. Teach the student about the atmosphere and heating the air.
  6. Teach the student about air pressure and moving air. Ask the student to look at the barometer readings over the past week and record them in his science journal.
  7. Wind direction is affected by the turning of the earth. Read about prevailing and trade winds.
  8. Field Trip: Arrange for the student to go to a local television station, airport or newspaper office to meet with a meteorologist. Discuss the information learned from the meteorologist and have the student write a thank you note to the meteorologist.
  9. Write a job description for a meteorologist.
  10. Copywork: Weather is determined by the factors of temperature, wind, air pressure and moisture.
  11. Explore the importance of moisture in weather.
  12. Using the temperature data your student has collected, have him make a line graph showing the changes in temperature over several weeks.
  13. Discuss the difference between weather and climate. Compare the climate where you live to other climates. Explore whether longitude makes a difference in climate.
  14. Save the newspaper weather maps from several consecutive days. Write the date on each map. Have your student compare the information with  his weather charts from the same days. Compare the accuracy of the forecasts and actual weather. 
  15. Observe the weather maps to learn how fronts affect weather. 
  16. Draw diagrams to explain cold fronts and warm fronts.
  17. Have the student watch a television weather report and compare it with that day's newspaper weather report. Discuss the similarities and differences in the information and the means of reporting. 
  18. Make a weather map and predict the weather.
Weeks 35-40: Clouds
  1. Teach about different types of clouds. Clouds form differently at different heights and temperatures. On a blue piece of poster board paste cotton balls to resemble the different types of clouds to make a chart.
  2. Go outside and observe clouds. 
  3. Have your student draw the water cycle. Have the student draw a picture of a landscape. Tell him to draw clouds in the sky. Have him draw arrows coming up from the lakes and rices as well as the ground and trees to show that water evaporates from many places. Have him draw arrows coming down from the clouds.
  4. Nature Study: Have the student observe and draw cloud shapes and movements.
  5. Have the student read to learn how clouds are formed. Discuss the information as he narrates back to you what he has learned. 
  6. Learn the names of clouds and where they form. Read to learn how weather prediction is related to clouds.
  7. Have your student explain in his science journal why a cloudy day may be cool, but a cloudy night may be warm.
  8. Draw and label a cloud diagram that show the different types of clouds and where they form (altitude).
  9. Read about storms and weather extremes: thunderstorms, tornadoes, hurricanes,floods, heat waves and others. What are the positive effects of such weather?
  10. Many famous scientists have had an impact on the science of weather forecasting. Read about the weather related work of Galileo, Edmund Halley, Samuel Morse, Vilhelm Bjerknes, John von Neumann and others.


  1. This is excellent! Do you use a particular curriculum? Love all the ideas and organization! Makes me want to cover this material again!

    1. Thank you. No, I just cobble lots of things together.


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