Buying Simple Machines—Who Knew It Would Be So Hard?

Today I dragged all three of my kids to Home Depot to buy some simple machines. I figured we’d be in and out in just a few minutes with six little purchases in my bag and then we would go home and LEARN!!

Ha.

Have you ever been to Home Depot?

To refresh your memory, here are the six simple machines: wheel and axle, lever, inclined plane, pulley, screw, and wedge. Home Depot seems like a place that would have all of these things, right? And, yes, they do. But finding them in a $1-$2 range and locating them in the store is somewhat more of a challenge.

Wheel and axle: I carried around a package of little wheels intended to go on bed frames for fifteen minutes before I realized that they weren’t actually simple machines because the axle wasn’t connected to the wheel, which, as I learned yesterday in my 45 minute simple machine lecture to my children, is necessary for a wheel to be a simple machine.  I think the wheel on the cart my kids sat in was a simple machine, but it seemed to be bad form to stuff that into my car. We’ll have to ride bikes on Wheel Day instead.

Lever: There are levers all over Home Depot. I think Sam got a little tired of me seeing things like shovels and wheelbarrows and yelling, “Hey, look! It’s a lever!”

He did like the crowbar selection, but I decided that buying one would just lead to all kinds of trouble, what with the inevitable jimmying of doors and shattering of televisions, so I just let them look at it.

One step away from breaking and entering!

Sam did use the crowbar to lift up a tiny package of screws. Good use of a simple machine, Sam! See how much easier that was?

I should have given him some bricks.

In the end, I decided to use paint stirring sticks that I stole (or, if you prefer, politely asked if I could steal) from the paint counter.

My kids promptly turned the levers into swords.

Inclined plane: Stolen paint sticks.

Pulley: I asked five different employees to help me find a pulley. I KNEW the store had to have them, but I just didn’t know where. Four of those employees didn’t know either. In fact, those employees didn’t seem to know what a pulley was. I actually had to pull out my nerdy Camp Stimey paperwork that I am using to teach my kids about simple machines and show these employees a picture.

The best was when I was trying to explain to the first employee what a pulley was and Sam was all, “It’s a simple machine,” as if that was information that was going to help. Although, really? It should have.

Wait, no. The best part was when we finally found the pulleys and I said, “Huzzah!” and Sam said, “Mom, I don’t want you to think I’m making fun of you, but you should try to sound less like a French queen.”

Screw: These were easy to find—and cheap! Although we did spend a good amount of time trying to find exactly the right one. Jack found a bolt and nut that he really wanted, so I decided to splurge and spend the 48 cents on him.

That’s Sam’s hand trying to steal it.

Wedge: I spent some time wandering around the lumber section looking for a wedge-shaped block of wood, before I just took my munchkins down the axe aisle and showed them how axes were wedges. In case you’re wondering, I didn’t buy one of those for them either.

I was a little sad that I didn’t find a wooden wedge because I have an experiment I wanted to do with it. I knew that there were things called shims that would function as a wedge, but I didn’t ask any employees where to find them and it’s probably a good thing I didn’t because it wasn’t until I left the store that I realized I had actually been saying “shiv” in my head, and that would have been a pretty funny thing to ask for down at the ol’ hardware store.

Also, I don’t think shivs qualify as simple machines although, technically, any blade is a wedge.

Once I got home though, I realized that the screws I chose had pointy ends: Look! Wedges!!

Huzzah!

$4.50, four purchased items, and three stolen items later, we were home and experimenting with levels, inclined planes, screws, and  wedges.

The pulley is for tomorrow. That simple machine really needs its own day.

*****

Hey! Check out the Q&A I posted on my review blog for From the Heart, which is a new anthology of stories and poems about parenting that includes one of my essays! All profits go to children’s charities!

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