Zipwire Science – A Lesson in Gravity and Friction

 By Maggy Woodley from Red Ted Art

We do love to have FUN in our house and we love nothing more than a bit of PLAY. The best part about play however, is that you are learning WHILST having fun. But I am sure I am “preaching to the converted.”

A few weeks ago, we decided to put up a little Superhero Zipwire in our garden (I actually thought it may make a great Party Game for our Superhero Party, so we were testing it out).

It was quick and easy to set up and provided a GREAT science learning opportunity for us:

1)     We got to talk about GRAVITY

2)     We got to talk about FRICTION

My kids are only 5 years old and 3 years old, so of course many science concepts and terms are quite “above their heads,” however, I found that still talking about and introducing concepts is a great way to help them familiarise themselves with what seems tricky and science becomes kind of second nature.

So. Firstly, we set it up our zipwire:


  • 2 different pieces of string (we used garden twine and curling ribbon)
  • toy
  • paper clip
  • somewhere to span your zip wire between

We tied one piece of rough garden twine on the top of our playhouse and the other at the side of our fence. (Basically tie your rope at a slope anywhere you can and of course you can do this indoors too). You could tie it to a door handle and the bottom of a chair. I find a taught bit of string is better to get a good flying motion.

Our superhero had “cupped” hands so we were able to whizz it down like that, but some of our other toys didn’t, so we attached a paper clip.

We let our superhero go… and whizzz…. off he went. Red Ted LOVED it. So we discussed WHY the superhero was whizzing along: GRAVITY. I told him how gravity makes us stay on the ground and that it is the reason that things drop down. We talked about how there was less gravity on the moon (they had been covering space at school), as the moon is smaller. And that if you are in space, there is no gravity at all (and the zip wire wouldn’t work!).

The next day, the garden string (which is quite rough anyway), was damp. And the superhero wasn’t whizzing down so well.

“MUMMY! Why isn’t it working today?”

I told him about FRICTION and how friction slows things down. It is absorbing some of the gravitational energy. The wet string clearly had a higher friction as the dry one. To show the point some more, I fetched some curling ribbon – which is strong and SMOOTH. We created a zip wire from it and sent the Superhero down that – JOY it was SO FAST.

We compared the smooth ribbon with the frayed sides of the string – what was the difference? Can you see the smooth ribbon and can you see all the “bits” standing up on the string? What do you think is happening as the superhero goes down?

By the end of the weekend the garden was covered in criss crossing zipwires and the kids spend hours outside experimenting and observing.

A simple lesson in both GRAVITY and FRICTION and lots of FUN had!

Maggy Woodley is best known for her craft blog Red Ted Art, where she loves to get crafty with her 5-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter and has just written her first wonderful craft book for kids: Red Ted Art. With a background in Engineering, she is passionate about Science and making it fun for kids. She also regularly explores sciences with fellow bloggers at Life At The Zoo and can also be found on Theatre Books and Movies.




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