Go to top of page

We're off and racing

Moving through space


Suitable for children: 
Young boy playing with a toy car

There are many different ways that you can have a car race at home. One of the most exciting ways is to build your own racetrack with blocks and found parts. Together you can experiment with different designs to see which car will make it to the bottom first in the fastest time. Sometimes if the car is travelling too fast it might crash and not finish the race.

Before creating a design for the track, talk with your child about the type of racetrack. Will it be a tall racetrack with a sharp angle for the slope, a gentle slope or a flat long track that has twists and turns? Once you are both happy with the design, go on a hunt around the house for different materials that can be used in the design. You might want to draw the racetrack before you start looking for the parts you need.

What cars can we use? If we use big cars will we need to change our racetrack design? Do all the cars look the same? How do you know which car is yours?

How will the race be run? Will several cars compete against each other at the same time on the track or will they race one at a time, recording the individual time for each car. If they are racing one at a time what will you use to time the speed of the car? You could use a stopwatch, an eggtimer or the timer on the oven or microwave.

Who will start the race so the cars know it is time to go? Will the race be started using words, counting backwards or by the fall of a flag?

Drivers, start your engines!

Materials you will need

  • Car
  • Blocks
  • Found racetrack parts
  • Eggtimer
  • Stopwatch

Alternative tools

  • Planks of wood
  • Masking tape
  • Flag

Why does this matter?

Building a racetrack and experimenting with creating different heights and angles helps children to learn about measurement and the different language we use to describe it.

As the children place the cars at the top or the start of the course they are experimenting with height, length, distance and time as forms of measurement. We don’t use the same tools or language to describe them but they are still about measurement.

As the angle of the course is increased or decreased the speed the car travels at will change. By experimenting with increasing or decreasing the angle and hypothesising what will happen children are using trial and error and learning to problem solve – the ‘what if’ way of thinking.

What does this lead to?

By racing cars along the racetrack children are developing concepts of speed and time as forms of measurement and learning how to talk about them.

As the cars race, children are experimenting with the relationship of speed to time and are learning that we can express time through speed. ‘The car took a really long time to get to the bottom’ or ‘the car was so fast it took no time’.

Children are learning that we can use a different kind of language, such as number or positional words, to describe time. ‘I counted to 10 before the car got to the bottom’ or ‘my car finished first - it was faster’.

Language to use

  • Flat, curved, slope, steep, angle, bumpy, smooth
  • Time, speed, pace
  • Fast, slow, quick
  • First, second, last
  • Start, finish, did not finish, finished, fail
  • Ready, set, go
  • Tallest, smallest
  • Clock, timer

Questions to use

  • Who will go first?
  • Who was fastest?
  • Who didn’t finish?
  • Which track was the safest?
  • Which track is the longest?
  • Who reached the bottom first?
  • How will we time the race?

Useful tips

  1. You might also like to take a look at the activities Building a car and Working at the car wash.
  2. Remember to talk to your child in your home language.

More ideas

  1. Hold a race outside with cars made from cardboard boxes.
  2. Make a masking tape race course around the house, climbing over and under the furniture.

Variation by age

Birth to two year olds

  • Make a racetrack for your car by leaning a piece of wood against the couch. Try a few different cars to see which one will fit. Which car can get to the floor the fastest?
  • Hold a race with your ride-on car.
  • Collect large cardboard rolls for tunnels. Can you shoot your car from one side of the tunnel to the other?
  • Create a car collection.
  • Draw a road map for your child to drive their cars around.

Three to five year olds

  • Collect large cardboard rolls for tunnels. Can you shoot your car from one side of the tunnel to the other?
  • Give your child a large piece of paper and empty shoeboxes for creating a road map and garages for the cars.
  • Build Lego cars to race. You could also borrow motorised Lego from the toy library.
  • Create a timer box. Search the house for different objects you could include to measure the speed of the cars.

Questions to ask

  • Where is the car going?
  • Who is the fastest?
  • Who is going to win?
  • Where is the car?

Questions to ask

  • Will the car fit?
  • Where is the car going?
  • Which was the fastest car and which was the slowest?
  • Which car finished first?
  • How will the car move?
  • How do we know which car is the fastest?

Language to use

  • Top, bottom
  • Start, finish
  • Start line, finish line
  • Under, over, through
  • Fastest, slowest

Language to use

  • Top, bottom
  • Start, finish
  • Start line, finish line
  • Under, over, through
  • Fastest, slowest
  • Wheels, engine, leg power, hand powered