Sandy Benton, Michelle Vanlieshout
Physical Education, Environmental Literacy and Sustainability, Life Science
Material Type:
Unit of Study
Lower Primary
  • At Home
  • Backyard
  • Engineering
  • Environment
  • Environmental Education
  • Inquiry
  • Inquiry-based Learning
  • Kindergarten
  • Nature
  • Near Nature
  • Observation
  • Observe
  • Physical Science
  • Pushes and Pulls
  • Science
  • Stem
  • Wonder
  • place-based
  • License:
    Creative Commons Attribution
    Media Formats:

    Education Standards

    Kindergarten Pushes and Pulls

    Kindergarten Pushes and Pulls


    This series of 5 high-quality, standards-aligned, inquiry-based activities and two environmental STEM challenge activities have been field-tested by kindergarten students and families of Wequiock Children's Center for Environmental Science during Safer At Home orders. These activities encourage students to use natural areas around their homes and in their neigbhorhoods as they improve their science observation and reasoning skils as they explore the science of pushes and pulls in nature. The materials used are ones generally available at home and the activites require little preparation on the part of caregivers. Created as a part of a WISELearn OER Innovation project, Connect, Explore, and Engage: Using the Environment as the Context for Science Learning was a collaboration of the Wequiock Children's Center for Environmental Science and the Wisconsin Green Schools Network. One of the goals of the project was to create standards-aligned lessons that utilize the outdoor spaces of the school (as well as those of the students' homes).  Each section of this resource is an individual activity. While each activity builds on the previous ones, it is possible to use them individually.

    The title image was used with permission and is courtesy of Joe Riederer.

    Activity 1

    Essential Question: How do things move?

    This unit was inspired by Teacher’s Guide: Forces and Interactions: Pushes and Pulls .

    Location: Preferably outdoors, but observation may be possible from a window

    Materials needed: Paper, (or you may want to start a nature journal to add entries for each of these activities and others that you create on your own), pencil, crayons

    Time required: 15 minutes or longer (depending on your interest); this activity can be repeated.

    Take nature walk, or if you can’t get outdoors, find a window where you can view what’s going on outside.  Spend time looking for things that move and things that do not move. 

    Here are some ideas to get you started. Spend 10 minutes observing. See how many things you can add to your list either by talking, writing, or drawing! If you would like to keep track of what you see, you might like to make a chart like this. 




    What the weather is like:

    My Observations

    Here are some examples of what you might observe. You will find many more!

    What Was MovingWhat Was Not Moving
    tree branchesBird feeder
    birdscement driveway
    honey beestree trunk


    Reflect: When you are finished observing, talk about things that can move by themselves.  What do they have in common?  What things did you observe that can’t move by themselves?  How do these objects move?

    Activity 2

    Dog in yardEssential Question: How do things move?

    Location: Outdoors

    Materials needed: None

    Time required: 15 minutes or longer (depending on your interest). The game may be a good one to play as a fun activity during down time between other family activities.

    Animals such as birds, insects, worms, squirrels, and people can all move using their body parts. Let’s spend time quietly observing animals as they move. If you have a pet, you might start by noticing how your pet moves.  

    Be sure to describe the ways the animals move.  Do they make only one movement, or are there more movements? What body parts are the animals using to make these movements? Do the animals lift or move other objects?

    When you are ready to observe animals in nature, find a spot at a window, or you might step outside to observe.  Don’t forget to bend down to see if any insects, spiders, or worms might be moving about. Use the questions you used while observing a pet, or start using them now.

    Can you mimic, or copy, the movement of the animals?  What do you notice when you: 

    • Flap your “wings” like a bird? 
    • Pull a “worm” from the ground like a robin?
    • Hop like a rabbit? 
    • Play "Tug of War" with a pull-toy like your dog?
    • Squirm like a worm?

    What movements make parts of your body push against the air? Away from the ground? What movements are pulling motions, where you are bringing objects toward your body?

    With someone in your home, play “Guess the Animal Game.” Take turns acting out the motions of an animal while the other player guesses what animal is being acted. Talk about which movements are “pushes” and which ones are “pulls.” You may keep track of correct guesses if you would like.

    Reflect: What surprised you about animal movements? How were your movements just like the animals’? How were they different? Why do you suppose you were not able to mimic all?

    Activity 3

    Essential Question: How do things move?

    Location: Outdoors--this activity is high-energy!

    Materials needed: Paper, (or nature journal), pencil, crayons, backpack or bag that can be filled and place on child’s back, objects of various sizes and weights that can be thrown safely, without breaking or causing other harm

    Time required: 15 minutes or longer (depending on your interest); this activity can be repeated.

    Let's find objects in our house or in our yard to move! Move objects (without harming living things, hurting yourself or others, or causing damage). 

    FInd things to lift. What things can you lift? What are things are you unable to lift? Can you lift them with another person? Are you pushing, pulling, or doing both when you lift? It may help to pay attention to your body when you lift something heavy. Are some parts of your body pushing? Which ones?  Are some parts pulling?  Girl jumping

    What are things that you can throw? What things are easy to throw? Which things are hard to throw? Is throwing a push or a pull?

    Jump up and down.  Try jumping up and down with something heavy in your arms?  How is jumping different? Is jumping a push or pull?

    Try running. Run as fast as you can.  Run with a full backpack.  What do you notice? Is running a push or pull? When can you run fastest?

    Think about the animals you observed moving in Activity 2. Which body parts are birds using to fly? Are they pushing or pulling? How do birds change their pushes or pulls to fly quickly? Make a connection to when you ran quickly.

    Reflect: Take a moment to talk about the discoveries you made.  How do your pushes and pulls change when you move heavy and light objects and when you move things quickly.  Draw or write about what you discovered.

    Activity 4

    Essential Question: How do things move?

    Location: Preferably outdoors, but observation may be possible from a window

    Materials needed: Paper, (or nature journal), pencil, crayons

    Time required: 15 minutes or longer (depending on your interest)

    Anytime an object is moved, a force--either a push or a pull--is used to cauUS Flag in windse the object to move. People and animals can move their own bodies, the force comes from muscles and bones working together.  

    Non-living things as well as plants (living) need forces--pushes or pulls-- to move them.  Go back to Activity 1 and think about the non-animals that you saw moving. What caused the tree branches to move? Was that a push? Was it a pull? Explore more objects looking for movement.  Think about things that are not moving, perhaps a barn or a post.  Can these things EVER move? What would it take to move them? Could a push or a pull move a building? 



    What the weather is like:

    My Observations

    What I Observed

    Was It Moving?

    (Yes or No)

    How Could It Move?
    tree branchesYesWind is pushing
    birdsYesMuscles and bones help birds hop (push up with legs and feet) on grass
    bird feederNoMy parents could pull it out of the ground.
    cement drivewayNoMaybe a bulldozer could push it up, but I don't want to do that!
    tree trunkNoA BIG wind could push it to sway.
    (add your own to continue)  


    Reflect: Talk about your discoveries and questions with someone at home and make a chart on your paper or in your nature journal. If you just would like to draw a picture about one idea, that would be good too!

    Activity 5

    Essential Question: How do things move?

    Location: Preferably outdoors, but observation may be possible from a window.

    Materials needed: Paper, (or nature journal), pencil, crayons, recycled objects from craft supplies, glue, tape, single-use food containers, junk mail (the possibilities are endless)

    Time required: 30 minutes or longer (depending on your interest)

    Take a “pushes and pulls” hike! On your hike, talk about things in nature that you see moving. Be sure to look up in the sky to observe clouds. Take a look at grasses, leaves, flowers, plants, soil, and rocks. Are they moving? Why do you think so? What is making them move? Is it a push or a pull?

    After about 5 minutes, focus your attention on animals in nature--birds, squirrels, insects, earthworms--any animals that you can observe for several minutes. Really take time to study this animal.  How does it move? Does it use pushing? Pulling? Does it use some pushing and pulling? What is the animal you are observing doing? Eating? Is it feeding its babies?

    On a piece of paper, or in your natural journal, draw a picture to show how your animal moves.  If you know the name of the animal, write it on your page using all that you know about sounds, letters, and words.  Use your drawing to teach someone else how the animal is moving. Be sure to describe the ways your animal is using pushes and pulls.

    Reflect: How did teaching someone else about your animal help you to better understand how the animal moves?

    Engineering Application: The Ultimate River Otter Slide OR Create an Animal

    Option 1: The Ultimate River Otter Slide

    Location: Any location where internet is available & outdoors

    Materials needed: Paper, (or nature journal), pencil, crayons, large plastic sheets like the kind used as drop cloths for painting

    Time required: 60 minutes or longer (depending on your interest); there are 2 options for this challenge.

    Remember when we used ramps to move vehicles? Remember when it was easiest to move the vehicles? When they moved fastest? We tried different surfaces? Vehicles move easiest when there is less friction or smooth or slippery surfaces.

    Use what you learned when moving toy vehicles as well as what you learned about pushes and pulls as you observe river otters moving in two short videos.

    Video 1: River Otter Loves to Slide in the Snow:

    How is the otter moving?  Is the otter moving by pushing with parts of its body? Is it using parts of its body to pull?  Why do you think the otter is sliding instead of walking or running?  When is it easy for the otter to slide?  Was there anything about the surfaces that made it challenging for the otter to slide?  

    Video 2: River Otters on the Run in Yellowstone National Park: 

    Watch the video to compare it with the first video.  Which otters (in Video 1 or Video 2) used more pushes to move themselves?  Why do you think so? 

    How will river otters move during the summer? Would they still be able to slide? What smooth and slippery surfaces are available in the summer? (Talk about smooth surfaces, muddy, algae-covered rocks) 

    Use what you learned from nature and the classroom on how things move through the use of pushes and pulls to plan the ultimate River Otter Slide (think: Slip and Slide). Label your drawing with the materials you will use. Long plastic sheets or tarps make great surfaces. What will you put on the slide to make it slipperier? How will you get a big push to get started? Will you pull yourself along the surface? Is there a good spot in your backyard to place the River Otter Slide? Why will you choose that spot? Share your plan with someone else. Are there improvements that you can make to your design?

    When it's warm enough outdoors for this activity, put on your swimsuit, set up your River Otter Slide, and test out your plan!


    Option 2: Create an Animal

    Location: Preferably outdoors

    Materials needed: Paper, (or nature journal), pencil, crayons, recycled objects from craft supplies, glue, tape, single-use food containers, junk mail (the possibilities are endless)

    Time required: 30 minutes or longer (depending on your interest)

    Invent an imaginary animal, like a blue-legged, skipping frog, or a purple tick eater! Think about the special body parts that your imaginary animal has and what these body parts help the animal to do. Which movements are pushes? Which are pulls? 

    You can draw your animal or make one with recycled materials.

    Think about how pushes and pulls are needed to move things, how changing from gentle pushes and pulls to hard pushes and pulls change movement, and as well as how surfaces and other objects can make pushing and pulling easier or more difficult.

    Reflect: With your grownup, answer the question, “How do things move?” Be as complete as possible, talking about pushes, pulls, surfaces, and amount of force needed.