Learn the Properties of Balance & Motion by Making & Sailing a Walnut Sailboat

We studied boats as part of our home school adventure, and I taught the kids use walnut shells to learn the properties of balance and motion. This was a fun project that I think you family will enjoy doing as well.

Start by cracking open a walnut, you will need half of the shell. Clean out all the meat and innards from the shell. (You can eat the meats, you won’t use them for this project.) Take a marble sized of piece of clay or Play Dough and place into the center of your hollowed out walnut shell.

Next you will need a plastic drinking straw. You will need to cut it in half, so that its not so long that it will capsize the boat. The straw is going to be the mast of your boat. You can also use a coffee stir stick instead, if you have one available.

Next you will need a small square of paper about two inches by two inches. Color doesn’t matter but if you are making several walnut sailboats, you may want to make them all with different colored sails so that you can tell them apart later. Punch two holes about one third and two thirds of the way down the centerline of your paper square. Use those holes to thread it on to your piece of straw. Be careful not to dislodge your straw mast while you do this.

Now you just need to find a body of water to float your sailboat in. You can take your walnut boat to a nearby river or lake, or you can float them in the bathtub, or even the kitchen sink. If you have made several of them you can race them. Give one to each family member and let them practice blowing on their sail to learn to control their walnut sailboat.

Making walnut sailboats is an opportunity not only to learn how to build the boats but also how to balance them and how bursts of air of different intensity and direction can control them.

We took our walnut sailboats to a local river and raced them in the calm water. The kids had a blast setting up obstacle courses for their boats, and then challenging each other to race through them.

Try to have enough walnuts on hand that your children can experiment with different designs. For instance, what happens if they anchor the mast somewhere besides the middle of the boat? What happens if they use a bigger or smaller piece of paper, or if they don’t center the paper on the mast? Finally, what effect does blowing harder, softer, or on different parts of the sail have on their boats?

This project can provide hours of fun, not just in the construction but also in playing with the results. We had a great time with it, and I’m sure your family will too.

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