Today we talking about how to make a pulley with kids! Kids are never too young to learn about simple machines like a pulley.  Pulleys are powerful machines that are the foundation of many of the machines we interact with every day. Building simple machines for kids is a fun and easy lesson at home or in the classroom.

Make a simple machine - DIY pulley for kids - Kids Activities Blog - child with homemade pulley system sitting on stairs pulling up a figurine in a cup from a pulley
Let’s make a homemade pulley to explore simple machine science!

Simple Machines for Kids

We at Kids Activities Blog believe that science for kids should be hands-on and always fun.  It is one of the reasons we love science so much.  It is play!

Related: How to make a catapult

Simple machines have always fascinated my son. He loves to build simple machines and explore how they work.

What is a simple machine?

Simple machines are all around us and help make our work easier. When simple machines are combined, a compound machine is created.  —NASA

Simple machine, any of several devices with few or no moving parts that are used to modify motion and the magnitude of a force in order to perform work.  They are the simplest mechanisms known that can use leverage (or mechanical advantage) to increase force.  —Britannica

6 Simple Machines Kids Can Identify:

What are simple machines - 6 simple machines demonstrated - Kids Activities Blog
Simple machines are the basis for all machines!
  1. Pulley
  2. Lever
  3. Wheel and axle
  4. Wedge
  5. Inclined plane
  6. Screw

Today we want to explore the pulley!

What is a Pulley?

Pulley force - simple machine diagram - Kids Activities Blog
Pulleys can make work easier through leverage.

“A pulley is a wheel that carries a flexible rope, cord, cable, chain, or belt on its rim. Pulleys are used singly or in combination to transmit energy and motion.”

Britannica, The Pulley

How do Pulleys Work?

Water well with bucket with lush greenery and flowers - old bucket is attached with rope and pulley - Simple Machines - Kids Activities Blog
This is an example of a simple pulley called a fixed pulley

The simplest type of pulley machine is called a fixed pulley. This is what people used to use to get water out of a well. There was a large beam or support above the well opening where the pulley was hung (fixed) and a rope was threaded through the pulley mechanism and tied onto the bucket. The pulley made it easier to pull up the heavy bucket filled with water from the bottom of the deep water well. The heavy bucket needs to be pulled straight up out of the well hole against gravity and the use of the pulley allows the person pulling the rope to pull in a different direction and use the leverage of their body weight and gravity to help.

3 Types of a Simple Pulley System

3 real world examples of pulleys pictured: flag pole is a fixed pulley example, crane is a moveable pulley example and window blinds is an example of a compound pulley
Here are some examples you might see today of pulleys in action!
  • Fixed Pulley: The pulley wheel in a fixed pulley is permanently attached to the surface.
  • Moveable Pulley: The end of the rope is attached permanently to the surface and the pulley wheel mechanism is able to roll along the rope.
  • Compound: The compound pulley (like a gun tackle pulley) is a combination of both the fixed pulley and the moveable pulley. One pulley wheel is attached to the surface while the other can freely move along the rope.

Pulley Simple Machine Examples

Fixed Pulley Example: Flag Pole

If you have ever participated in raising the flag, you know that you clip the flag onto snap hooks that are on the rope and then pull on the rope that is threaded through a pulley wheel fixed at the top of the flag pole. You keep pulling the rope until you get the flag raised to the top of the pole and then secure the rope around the cleat on the flag pole.

Moveable Pulley Example: Construction Crane

Next time you go by a construction site, check out the crane(s) that are there. Most likely you will see a floating hook high in the air. Look at the hook closer and you will see that it is attached to a moveable pulley. This helps the crane lift heavy items more easily.

Compound Pulley Example: Window Blinds

You may never have thought about how you raise the blinds each morning or put them down in the evening but it is because of a series of pulleys within the window blinds that make that happen. Usually you can only see what looks like a fixed pulley on the outside, but if you were able to take apart the blinds, you would see that it is attached to another pulley (or more).

Make a Pulley System

After making him a mobile for my son’s room, I looked at the empty ribbon spool that was left from ribbon on the mobile. The center spool of the ribbon container looks just like the center of a pulley. We decided to make a pulley together.

My son and I gathered a few other supplies to create a homemade ribbon spool pulley.

Supplies Needed to Make a DIY Pulley System

Our homemade pulley system - Science for Kids: Make a Pulley - plastic basket hanging off stairs on string
Our homemade pulley created with string, dowel and a basket of toys!

When making a pulley, substitute what you have around the house. There are so many ways to make a pulley.  This simple machine can be made with all sorts of different household items. We used:

  • Two band-aids
  • Empty ribbon spool
  • Plastic Applesauce cup
  • Chopstick
  • Yarn
  • Hole punch
  • Plastic army men

How to make a Simple Pulley System

Homemade pulley close up - string wound around chopstick at the top with plastic basket raised from floor
Kids can learn about simple machines as they make a pulley!
  1. Punch three holes into the applesauce cup.
  2. Cut three pieces of yarn the same length.
  3. Tie one end of each of the pieces of yarn through a hole in the cup.
  4. Tie the loose ends of the yarn together.
  5. Tie a really long piece of yarn to the three pieces you just tied together.
  6. Tape the other end of the long piece of yarn to the inside of the ribbon spool.
  7. Wrap the yarn around the ribbon spool.
  8. Place a band-aid at each end of the chopstick. The band-aids will keep the chopstick from rubbing against the wood of the  banister  or where ever you secure the pulley.
  9. Slide the ribbon spool onto the chopstick.
  10. Find a location to use your pulley. The length of your chopsticks may determine that.
Pulley made out of an erector set - simple machine - Kids Activities Blog
What pulley are you going to make next?

Our Experience with making a Simple Pulley System

Once you have created your pulley you will need set it up in location you want to use it in. We set ours up on our stairs. The chopsticks were placed behind two sections of our  Bannister.  If you have headboard of a bed or chair with slats, you could set up your pulley there.

To work the pulley my son pushed the spool towards himself with one hand and held one end of the chopstick. Just rolling the ribbon roll would have worked too.

It is more fun when you have something to lift with your pulley. We placed a couple of plastic army men in ours. They are light and small. They made great items to lift.

More Science & STEM Kids Activities

There are several types of simple machines and even young kids can enjoy learning about them with the right hands-on activity.  We’d love to hear if your child tried to make a pulley.  For more fun science kids activities, we think you’ll enjoy these ideas:

How did your homemade pulley turn out?

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  1. I wouldn’t use this for a school project since it’s not technically a pulley. It is however a great project for toddlers.

  2. Wow! I’m doing this for a school project in which we need a small duty pulley. This this amazing! Love the design!