What's Inside

Children will explore the parts of a wind-up toy.

Lesson Objective

Children will take apart a wind-up toy to explore the movable parts inside.


What You'll Need

Attention: Do not use items such as computers, cell phones, and televisions.
  • A collection of toys with moving parts, such as wind-up toys, toys that light up or play music, or pull-along toys
  • A wind-up toy (to take apart)
  • Screwdrivers – Phillips and straight; different sizes
  • Pliers – several pairs
  • Safety goggles – 1 pair per child
  • Magnifying glasses – 1 per child
  • Practice boards (see Lesson Tips) – for children to practice working with tools

What To Do

  1. Display the toys, and ask the children to explain how they think each toy works.
  2. Demonstrate the wind-up toy for the children.
  3. Ask the children what parts they think might be inside the toy.
  4. Tell the children they are going to take the toy apart to see what is inside.
  5. Demonstrate how to use a screwdriver and pliers.
  6. Help children put on the safety goggles, and distribute screwdrivers and pliers.
  7. Allow the children some time to practice using the tools on the practice boards.
  8. Assist the children with removing any screws or fasteners that are holding the wind-up toy together.
  9. Lift the cover off and look inside.
  10. Ask questions about the parts (see Guiding Student Inquiry) as the children are examining the parts that are inside.
  11. Make sure all of the children get to see the inside, and then allow them to remove gears, springs, or wheels for further inspection.
  12. Assist the children with reassembling the toy. Once the toy is reassembled, try to wind it up to see if it works.
  13. Ask the children why they think the toy does not work and what they could do with it.

Guiding Student Inquiry

  • Explain how you think this toy works.
  • Tell me what you think might be inside.
  • Describe what you see inside.
  • Explain what you think makes the parts move.
  • Tell me what we could do with this toy.

Explore, Extend & Integrate

  • Place the wind-up toy, goggles, and magnifying glasses in the science area for further investigation.
  • Provide any discarded toys that have springs or gears – such as wind-up toys, cash register, or pull-along toys – for the children to take apart and examine.
  • Electronic toys contain circuit boards, wires, and batteries. Children might like to explore a simple circuit kit that allows them to light a light bulb using batteries and a switch.

Check for Children’s Understanding

  • Could children explain how they think the toy works?
  • Could children tell what parts they thought they could find inside?
  • Could children describe what they see inside?
  • Could children explain what they think makes the parts move?
  • Could children discuss putting the toy back together or using the parts for something else, such as artwork?


Did You Know?

Wind-up toys contain many different kinds of working parts. Even the simplest motorized toy, such as a wind-up toy, contain a variety of parts that work together so that the toy will function. These parts and gadgets can include rollers, drums, gears, springs, reels, screws, and knobs. All of the parts and gadgets need to be properly aligned so they can work together to make the toy work.

The terms "tinkering" and "making" simply mean thinking with your hands. Tinkering commonly refers to using things and taking things apart. Making is generally thought of as using things to make other things. Tinkering and making differ in that tinkering involves investigating other things, whereas making usually has an end product in mind.

Vocabulary: Child-Friendly Definitions

  • wind-up – a mechanical object, such as a toy, that is driven by a spring or other mechanism and that must be wound.
  • screwdriver – a tool for turning a metal device that fastens things.
  • pliers – a tool that has a pair of jaws connected to handles. Pliers are used for holding, bending, or cutting things.
  • screw – a metal device that fastens things.
  • gear – part of a machine that makes other parts move because of the teeth that connect the two parts.
  • spring – a curved piece of metal that returns to its original shape after it is pushed together or stretched out

Lesson Tips

  • Adult supervision for these activities is strongly recommended.
  • On another day, take apart an electronic item such as an old VCR, record player, dial telephone, or a hand mixer. Be sure to cut the electrical cord completely off and remove any circuit boards and batteries before taking the item apart. The children can investigate and compare these parts to the parts of the wind-up toy.
  • Prepare practice boards by inserting different sized screws and bolts into small wooden boards. The children can practice using the screwdrivers and pliers.
  • Add a squirt of household penetrating oil spray (such as WD-40) to help make screws and clips easier for children to remove.
  • Once children are finished investigating, save the parts that have been harvested for use in art projects.
  • Search for simple toys with moving parts at yard sales, thrift stores, and your own discarded items.


  • Machines at Work by Byron Barton
  • From Wax to Crayon by Robin Nelson
  • Look Inside Things That Go (Usborne Look Inside) by Robb Lloyd Jones
  • How Things Work in the House by Lisa Campbell Ernst
  • How Do You Lift a Lion? (Wells of Knowledge Science Series) by Robert E. Wells

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