Race Car Rally

Children will explore how vehicles move.

Birds Nest

Lesson Objective

Using a variety of materials, children will explore how different textures impact the movement and speed of a vehicle with wheels.


What You'll Need

  • 4 thin pieces of wood or strong cardboard – 8” x 3’ to 5’ (to make ramps)
  • Bubble wrap – 12” x 5’
  • Aluminum foil – 12” x 5’
  • Felt – 12” x 5’
  • Masking tape – 2 rolls
  • Variety of toys with and without wheels

What To Do

  1. Invite the children to play with the toys, some with and some without wheels. Discuss how they move and why.
  2. Ask the children if they have ever been in a car, how it moves, whether it moves fast or slow, and why. Explain that all cars have wheels that the car rides on. Ask the children if they can think of other vehicles that move on the road.
  3. Invite the children to feel and compare the different ramp materials. Encourage conversations describing how the materials feel.
  4. Set up a ramp with no covering on it and have the children experiment rolling the toys with wheels down the ramp.
  5. Ask questions as the children roll the different toys with wheels (see Guiding Student Inquiry).
  6. Have the children help you cover each of the other ramps with foil, felt, and bubble wrap.
  7. Encourage the children to make predictions about how each toy will roll down the felt covered ramp before they place the toy on it.
  8. Repeat the experiment using the same toys on the foil-covered ramp, and then the bubble wrap-covered ramp. Encourage the children to make predictions each time.
  9. Compare and contrast the different surfaces. Which one was fastest? Which one was slowest? Encourage the children to talk about why some surfaces are faster and others are slower (see Did You Know?).

Guiding Student Inquiry

  • Tell me what kinds of vehicles with wheels you have seen.
  • Tell me what kinds of transportation you have been in that had wheels.
  • Explain what happened to make each toy roll.
  • Did each toy roll fast or slowly?
  • Did some toys roll faster or slower than other toys?
  • Did each toy stay on the ramps?
  • Describe the different ways the toys rolled down the ramps.

Explore, Extend & Integrate

  • Ask the children to select other materials that they would like to put on a ramp and experiment with.
  • Try other toy vehicles on each of the ramps.
  • Experiment with other things that roll, such as balls or marbles.
  • Put the ramps, some bubble wrap, some aluminum foil, and some felt in the block area and have the children explore with different ramps, materials, and toys.

Check for Children’s Understanding

  • Could children describe how the different surfaces affected the speed of each toy as it rolled down the ramp?
  • Could children explain how the different surfaces impacted the movement of the toys?


Did You Know?

Millions of people use cars as a means of transportation every day. Many vehicles, including all cars, have wheels. The wheels rotate and move what they are connected to – a wagon, a car, a bike, a bus, or a skateboard. Wheels move faster and more easily on a smooth surface than they do on a bumpy or textured surface. For example, cars would go really fast on ice and would go more slowly when driving on sand. Why does this happen? This happens because when wheels roll along a surface, they cause friction. Friction is what occurs when you rub two surfaces against each other.

When a surface is smooth, there is less friction between a wheel and the surface. When a surface is rough, there is greater friction between a wheel and the surface. Greater friction makes it more difficult for wheels to turn on a surface. When we experiment with different textures, we are testing to see how much friction is between a wheel and a surface.

Vocabulary: Child-Friendly Definitions

  • ramp — a sloping platform that connects a higher level to a lower level.
  • vehicle — a machine used to carry and move people or things; for example, a car, a truck, or a bus.
  • roll — to move forward by turning over and over.
  • speed — to move quickly or rapidly.
  • texture — the feel or look of a surface.
  • friction — the rubbing of one object or surface against another.

Lesson Tips

  • Make sure the felt, foil, and bubble wrap are taped securely to the ramps.
  • Do the experiment in an area where children have enough space to gather comfortably around the ramps and watch.
  • If you are unable to create ramps in the classroom, you could do the experiment on a playground slide.


  • The Wheels on the Bus by Paul O. Zelinsky
  • What Do Wheels Do All Day? by April Jones Prince
  • I Spy Little Wheels by Jean Marzollo
  • Peg + Cat: The Race Car Problem by Jennifer Oxley; Billy Aronson

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

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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