The Physics of Childhood

Hot Wheels 3

“If you want your children to turn out well, spend twice as much time with them and half as much money.” – Abigail Van Buren

How do things move?  It is one of the most basic questions that can be asked in regard to the science of physics.  In early childhood, movement is everywhere and is itself such a normal part of a child’s life that getting them to think in a developmentally appropriate and imaginative way about such things  and how they move is not hard at all.

When I was young, the physics of childhood flourished in me through an assortment of toy cars and later bicycles and go-carts and trying to build just the right ramps to turn each of them into the General Lee – the starring car of my favorite television show when I was a boy.  I remember the way it felt to get my bike just inches off the ground as it lifted its front wheel into the air from my makeshift ramp.  I was in heaven and imagined myself flying across rivers flanked by “Bridge Out” signs all along the way.  Some 30 years later, I can still remember the thrill of all that playing and working and experimenting!

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So tonight the girls and I decided to take a walk down the toy aisle at our local Target.  I was especially intrigued with their Hot Wheels assortment and the girls and I soon picked out the coolest 3-lane racetrack that I had ever seen.  The girls each chose two Hot Wheels (at only .97 cents, this must still be the cheapest toy in the store!) and we headed home to do some racing.

In my mind, the best part about Hot Wheels tracks are their interchangeable styles, which gives way to some of the most interesting configurations and layouts you’ve ever seen.  I dared the girls (ages 8 and 13) to find a way to bring every set of tracks (we have six separate playsets, four of which we inherited from my gracious nephew Zachary!)  together to create one colossal PHYSICS event!

After more than two hours of thinking and talking and hypothesizing and experimenting and failing and succeeding (and a little Motown music in the background to keep the mood up) – and some very funny debates between the two of them that ended at one point when my 8-year old said, “It will never work,” to which my 13-year old responded, “Don’t say another word” – it was time to bring it all together and see the domino effect that would start with 3 cars colliding into 3 more cars and so on until the final car hit the finish line.

30 Hot Wheels and 22 feet of track later the physics of childhood keeps moving along – right before my eyes and among my kids “the scientists!”

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