What is Physics? - Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Wendy McDougal

Wendy has taught high school Biology and has a master's degree in education.

Physics is a branch of science that helps us understand how objects, forces and energy all interact. Do you know how you are affected by physics? Read on to learn more!

Cartoon Physics

Imagine the following scenario: A cartoon character runs off the edge of a cliff and keeps running on thin air before suddenly plunging straight to the ground. Could this happen in real life? Can you really keep running before you start to fall?

To answer this question, we turn to an important branch of science called physics. This is the study of how objects, forces and energy all interact. In fact, you can't even exist for a single moment without being affected by physics!

Newton's Laws of Motion

You have probably noticed that objects tend to behave in a predictable way. For example, when you are holding something in your hand, like a book, and then you drop it, the book falls to the ground. When your friend bumps into you, you jerk to the side. A ball will only roll so far on the ground before it will stop. To further explore movement of objects, we need to understand some very important physics concepts: Newton's Laws of Motion.

Sir Isaac Newton, famous for his Laws of Motion
Sir Isaac Newton

Newton's First Law says that objects must be acted upon by an outside force to move. In other words, the dirty clothes on your floor are not going to move themselves. Likewise, an object that is already in motion must be stopped by a force. When you are riding in a car, you are in motion, correct? When the car brakes are applied, the car will stop. What stops you? That's right, your seat belt. As you can see, understanding physics saves lives!

The seat belt is the force that stops you when the car stops
Seat belt

Newton's Second Law says that an object with a larger mass will have a greater force when moving. If you accidentally kicked a soccer ball at your friend, it would hurt much more than if you kicked a balloon, correct? And Newton's Third Law says that for every action, there is an opposite and equal reaction. When you are standing on the floor, the floor is pushing back up on you. If it weren't, you would fall right through!

Heat, Light and Electricity

Physics is about more than just objects and forces. It is also a way to explain energy movement and transfer. Did you know that heat, light and electricity are all forms of energy? Physics can explain how light travels from a lamp to your book. Or, how heat transfers from the stove top to a pan.

Physics explains transfer of heat from stove top to pan
Pan on stove

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