The world of Simple Machines is whimsical, wonderful and beautifully rendered. Through open-ended play, children get to explore the physics of motion that govern six basic machines (and, no, a mobile phone is not one of them). There are levers, wheels, pulleys, screws, inclined planes and wedges. Each machine is featured separately so there are six very different playscapes to pick from. As kids tinker around, they see the laws of motion in action. For instance, when kids use a pulley to lift things, they’ll discover that a simple, one-wheel pulley can lift a bird, but it takes more pulleys to lift a space shuttle.
It might be a while since you’ve consciously revisited the principles of physics, but for your child who probably revels in the laws of motion every single day, this game isn’t a daunting affair. It’s fun. Who wouldn’t want to lay siege to a castle using a catapult? Once they figure out how to adjust the trajectory of the catapult, the castle crumbles, and a dragon emerges. Physics saves the day.
Here’s a quick rundown of the things kids can do with each of the machines:
1. Lever – Push down on a lever to launch a ball at a castle. Move the fulcrum to see what happens to the trajectory of the ball. In the process, destroy a castle to reveal a dragon.
2. Wheel and axle – Join a cyclist who encounters different obstacles along the way. Change the wheels and observe how the different wheels respond to the obstacles.
3. Pulley – Drag a pulley to an object and spin a winch to raise it. Pull different objects and observe how the number of pulleys determines what you’re able to lift.
4. Inclined plane – Hold and release the springs at the bottom of the screen to launch pinballs up the inclined planes. Drag the inclined planes to lengthen or shorten them. Observe how your tweaks affect how fast and how far the balls travel.
5. Screw – Twist screws to raise or lower one of three fish tanks. Each fish tank is connected to a different type of screw, ranging from fine to coarse. The speed at which you can raise or lower a tank depends on the type of screw.
6. Wedge – Pound wedges into icebergs. There are two wedges: one wedge has a thin base and the other has a fat base. The width of the base determines how much force is required to split the iceberg.
The app comes with a handbook to help you and your child understand and discuss the concepts behind the game. It also describes activities that bring these concepts to life in the real world.
Other than the profile creation process – which felt prolonged and a bit fussy – this app is a wonderful ode to physics.
Simple Machines has a lot in common with the Hot Wheels tracks which currently litter my living room. They are both a playful exploration of motion. The only difference is, Simple Machines may trigger a more conscious awareness of motion. It’ll be interesting to see whether the app inspires my son to change the way he configures his tracks.
- Developer: Tinybop Apps
- Device: iPhone, iPad
- Price: $2.99
- Age: 6-8
Disclosure: I got the app for free, but the opinions are my own.