Storybook Science: Exploring the Way Things Work

Fun ways to explore the way things work with kids.

Exploring the way things work: pairing activities with David Macauley's delightful book.

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I spent hours poring over the pages of David Macauley’s The Way Things Work as a kid. We still have my childhood copy of the book, and my kids love it! This week we borrowed The New Way Things Work, published in 1998. It includes updates on things like CD players and microchips. Things have changed a LOT since 1998, and later this year (October) there will be an all-new edition of the book, titled The Way Things Work Now. This newest edition of the book will explain modern technologies like touch screens and 3D printers. ANY of these books are fabulous starting points for exploring the way things work with your kids! Today I’m sharing a few activities you can pair with this book to extend the learning.

Exploring The Way Things Work

Kids are naturally interested in the way things work in the world around them. I recommend pairing sections of Macauley’s book with activities using the different machines and mechanisms that are explored in the book. For example:

  • Read the section on locks and keys, the let them find and lock/unlock the different locks in your house. We looked at our mailbox lock, bathroom lock, front door lock, front door bold, and bicycle lock for this activity.
  • Read the section on cutting machines, and then get in some scissor practice or let your child try opening a can. This is also a wonderful section of the book to read before going for a hair cut (it explains electric trimmers as well as regular scissors).
  • Read about zippers and then look at a real-life zipper up close.
  • Read about levers and make this simple cardboard see-saw
  • Read about weighing machines then go and try these weighing activities.
  • Read the section on grand pianos, then find a piano you can open up and look inside. We only have a digital piano, but there is a grand piano at church I was able to show the kids. Grand pianos work best, but you can open the top (and often the front, if you know what you are doing) of an upright to see a similar action.
  • Read the section on bicycle brakes and have them show you how it works on their own bike.
  • Read about sewing machines and let your child try making something – maybe this simple felt bag. Go over my simple sewing machine rules for kids first.
  • Read about flying machines and design your own paper airplane (or try one of the designs in this paper airplane book).
  • Read about toilet tanks. Open up the tank of your toilet and help your child find all the parts.

See how easy this is? The book is full of things that are around your house – you just need to help your child make the connection. They will probably start doing this all on their own once you have done this with a few pages in the book. They are learning to look at their world and THINK about how it works, instead of simply accepting things as they are. As they think about how things work, they will also start to think about ways things could be made differently, or improved. They are learning to think like scientists and inventors!

Encouraging kids to explore the way things work through David Macauley's brilliant book.

Are you looking to extend your learning beyond this book? I also recommend these other books by David Macauley:

As well as this less fanciful How Things Work Encylopedia(with photographs instead of illustrations with woolly mammoths).

These construction toys are wonderful for teaching children the basic concepts of physics and engineering:

Engineering Toys for Preschoolers:

Engineering Toys for Elementary School:

Engineering Toys for Big Kids:

Some of these toys are pretty expensive, which is why we don’t own all of them even though I DO love all of them (and have tried all of them, through friends, my kids’ school, and children’s exploration museums). Don’t worry, there are plenty of ways to explore science, technology, engineering, and math without leaving the comfort of your home – or spending a dime! My STEM Activities for Kids Using Household Items post is full of ideas to get you started!

Storybook science: pairing books with science activities for children

My friend Trisha has created a wonderful Storybook Science series in honor of March being National Reading Month. Click on the button above to follow along throughout the series!

Do you have a favorite “how things work” activity that my kids and I should try?

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MaryAnne lives in Silicon Valley with her Stanford professor husband Mike and their four children. She writes about parenting through education, creativity, and play. Mama Smiles - Joyful Parenting is a space to share crafts, hands on learning activities, and family outings that enrich lives and bring families together.

17 thoughts on “Storybook Science: Exploring the Way Things Work”

  1. Sounds like a great book for my son! Thanks for the heads up! We are looking for more science experiments and I like having it in a book that I can peruse for ideas.

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