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Did you know you could do a simple science experiment with just a couple of household items to demonstrate how sound travels as a vibration?
Teaching your child about sound science adds a visual aspect to how our ears and brains interpret sound through vibration. The ringing spoon experiment allows them to control the vibration of the spoon and hear the results in the string or yarn attached to it.
Sound can be a challenging topic to talk about with your kids because, unlike the other senses, sound is tough to visualize. By showing sound through vibration (and actually witnessing a vibrating spoon!), it is easier to see how sound travels to our ears.
How to make the Ringing Spoons science experiment
Supplies you will need
For the Ringing Spoons experiment, you’ll need the following:
- A long piece of yarn
- Metal spoon
Here’s a good kid’s book about the five senses that you can use to accompany this experiment!
Before you start
You will need a hard object nearby to hit the metal spoon. We used a table. You could also just use another metal utensil to hit your spoon.
Here is how to do the Ringing Spoons science experiment with your toddler:
Step 1: Cut a piece of yarn about 3 feet long
The yarn should be long enough to tie a knot around the spoon, the ends of the yarn reaching their ears, and leave it loosely hanging near their stomach.
Step 2: Find halfway point of yarn and tie a knot around the spoon
The spoon will be dangling at the end of yarn while they hold the two ends of the yarn up to their ears. You will need to tie a knot that will not allow the spoon to fall out.
Get your preschooler involved: If you have taught your child simple fractions, use this opportunity to demonstrate the halfway point to them!
Step 3: Hold the ends of the yarn up to ears
The less you are holding onto the yarn, but better the results of this experiment. This allows more vibration from the spoon to make its way to the ears and more sound.
We ended up just using an index finger and thumb to hold the string to her ears (instead of holding it with the entire hand).
Get your preschooler involved: Allow your child to start off the experiment by holding the yarn. What do they hear?
Step 4: Hit the spoon against a hard surface
We hit the spoon against the side of a table to start the vibration.
When you hit the spoon against a hard surface, be sure to swing the spoon from the string and quickly let go. If you hold onto the spoon, your hand will begin to absorb some of the vibrations and it will be more difficult to hear the sound.
Get your preschooler involved: Have your child be the one who initiates the vibration after they have experienced the experiment themselves. Can they see the spoon vibrating?
The science behind the Ringing Spoon science experiment
This experiment teaches:
- How vibrations travel to our ears
- Traveling vibration
How it works
The human ear and brain interpret sound by their vibration. In this experiment, we are creating a vibration by hitting a spoon against a hard surface, causing it to vibrate.
That vibration travels up the yarn and into our ears, creating a reverberating sound!
How vibrations travel to our ears
Sound originates at a point from a strum, tap, or disturbance, which causes a vibration to travel through the air. Our ears detect that vibration through changes in pressure, whether it’s more pressure or less pressure in the air.
Those fluctuations in pressure make up a vibration, and our ears interpret that vibration as sound.
As we get farther and farther from the source of the vibration, the intensity of the sound drops rapidly.
We can easily test this out in this experiment by cutting the length of the yarn so the spoon is closer to our ears. It may be hard to detect, depending on how long the yarn was originally, but there should be a difference in the intensity!
In this experiment, we are creating a vibration by hitting the spoon on a hard surface. In normal circumstances, that vibration travels through the air and into our ears as a specific sound.
That will still be the case when we hit the spoon against the hard surface, but we will also hear a somewhat different sound as the vibration travels up the string or yarn and into our ears.
During your experiment, try to find the difference in sound between the string in your ear as you tap the spoon and the string removed from your ear.
Here is a variation of this experiment with a video, demonstrating the difference in sound between having the string in your ear and not holding it in your ear.
Resonance is defined as one object vibrating at the same natural frequency as a second object forcing that second object into vibrational motion.
In our experiment, when we hit the spoon against the table, we are causing it to vibrate. Those vibrations are sent up the yarn and into our ears, creating a sound from the vibration.
Questions to ask while experimenting
- How does the sound from tapping the spoon sound differently when the yarn is in your ear versus when it is not in your ear?
- Is there a difference in sound when we cut the string, so the spoon is closer to your ear?
More physics experiments to try out with your child
- Musical Water Glasses: making beautiful sounds through vibration
- Sink or Float: an experiment to learn about density with household objects
- Dancing Rice: visualizing sound through vibration using rice and a speaker
FAQ about the Ringing Spoon sound science experiment
Why is the sound different when holding the string in my ears versus not?
Since molecules inside a solid (like our yarn) are packed together much closer than molecules in a gas (like the air), it is much easier for vibration to travel through a solid. Therefore, sound travels faster and fuller through our yarn than it does through the air!
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