Building and Forces

Children will explore forces.

Lesson Objective

Children will tinker with a variety of simple building materials to explore how a force – gravity – and balance affect building and construction.


What You'll Need

  • Wooden and/or foam blocks
  • Paper towel tubes
  • Small cardboard boxes
  • Recycled materials that lend themselves to building, such as plastic fruit baskets, clean plastic containers, cereal boxes, or cylindrical cardboard oatmeal containers
  • Photographs or digital images of a variety of buildings and structures


What To Do

Note: This exploration can go on for several days, as long as children maintain interest (see Lesson Tips).
  1. Introduce building and construction during whole-group time by displaying images of different types of structures.
  2. Ask the children what they know about buildings (see Guiding Student Inquiry).
  3. Display the materials, and place them in an open space with plenty of room for building.
  4. Tinker with and explore the materials with the children. Ask them what they notice about the materials (see Guiding Student Inquiry).
  5. Allow children plenty of time for undirected play with the materials.
  6. Observe and offer guidance to children as they notice the differences in the materials; materials differ in weight, shape, and size. Ask questions such as “What might happen if you place this material here?”
  7. Ask children what happened when something that they were building fell over, why they think that happened, and what they could do to build it better the next time.
  8. Introduce new words such as force, gravity, and balance as you are discussing the children’s play with them (see Vocabulary).
  9. Gather children for a whole-group discussion about their experiences. Encourage children to discuss what they did with the materials, the challenges they faced, and how they solved those challenges.

Guiding Student Inquiry

  • Describe the building in this image.
  • Explain what you think it is about the building that makes it stable and able to stand up straight.
  • Tell me which of these materials you could use to create a building.
  • Explain how you will arrange the materials to construct your building.
  • Describe what happened when you put this material on the top.
  • Tell me what you could do to keep it from falling down.

Explore, Extend & Integrate

  • Take the children on a neighborhood walk to notice buildings. Talk about how the buildings need to be balanced in order for them to remain standing.
  • Add child-sized hard hats, photographs of different buildings, and books about structures to the block area to inspire children to build.
  • Take photos of the children’s work, and display them in the block area.
  • Change the building materials or add to the materials from day to day to create new challenges with force, gravity, and balance.

Check for Children’s Understanding

  • Could children state what they think was used to build the buildings?
  • Could children explain that the building is stable because it is balanced?
  • Could children explain how they plan to construct their building?
  • Could children explain that larger, heavier materials are best used at the base of the building and lighter, smaller materials work best when placed at the top?
  • Could children explain that their structure needs to be balanced so it won’t fall down?


Did You Know?

A force can be described as a push or pull that makes something move. A force can also hold an object together. Gravity is a force, and it pulls objects toward the center of the Earth. The mass of every object is centered at a certain point in the object. This is called the center of gravity. The higher the center of gravity of an object, the more difficult it is for it to be balanced. Gravity acts on things in different ways. If something is very tall and not balanced, gravity can cause it to topple over. For instance, a block tower constructed of many blocks will experience gravity pulling on the entire structure and also pulling on each individual block. If the blocks are not balanced as they are stacked, gravity will cause the block tower to topple.

Children can begin to understand forces when they explore using different materials to build structures. Most children have experience building with blocks and are familiar with stacking and lining up blocks. Building with non-traditional materials, such as plastic containers and cardboard boxes, can help with encouraging curiosity, exploration, and discovery. As children continue to interact with the materials, they will gain confidence in their ability to build and may begin to explore building in different ways.

Vocabulary: Child-Friendly Definitions

  • materials – anything used for building or making things.
  • structure – something that is made of different parts by connecting them in a particular way.
  • construction – the process of building.
  • balance – the state of being steady.
  • force – a power or energy that makes something move or holds something together.
  • gravity – the force that attracts all things on the Earth downward.

Lesson Tips

  • Have the children contribute suggestions to a list of rules for keeping everyone safe in the building and construction area, such as handling blocks, keeping the blocks in the block area, and storage of materials. Write the rules for keeping everyone safe on a sheet of chart paper, and review them with the children.
  • As a space saver, prepare a few table-top explorations by placing smaller blocks and materials on tables.
  • Keep the building area organized by placing like materials together in bins or on shelves.
  • Search recycling bins or your own recycling bin for creative materials that children could use to build.
  • Be sure to thoroughly clean any materials obtained from recycling bins.


  • Curious George Builds a House by H. A. Rey
  • A Trip to the Construction Site by Nora Ellison
  • Construction Zone by Tana Hoban
  • Pete the Cat: Construction Destruction by James Dean

Home School Resources

Home educators: use these printable lesson PDFs to teach this lesson to your home schoolers. They're available in English and Spanish.

Home/School Connections

Las Conexiones a la Casa

While we believe that the books and resources recommended may be of value to you, keep in mind that these are suggestions only and you must do your own due diligence to determine whether the materials are appropriate and suitable for your use. PNC has no sponsorship or endorsement agreement with the authors or publishers of the materials listed.

Content Provided By

Common Core State Standards Initiative – These lessons are aligned with the Common Core State Standards ("CCSS"). The CCSS provide a consistent, clear understanding of the concepts and skills children are expected to learn and guide teachers to provide their students with opportunities to gain these important skills and foundational knowledge [1]. Visit the CCSS