Go With The Flow

Developed by Mary Nordby, PCM Play Intensive 2021
(FOCUS: K-2. 3-5, Science, Technology, Art, Engineering and Mathematics (STEAM), Design Thinking)

Downloadable PDF

This K-5 STEM activity encourages children to explore the properties of water and use the steps of The Engineering Design Process: Ask, Imagine, Plan, Create, Test, and Improve.

“Go with the Flow” introduces students to the properties of water. They will utilize no-cost materials to work with their peers, families, and teachers to design and create a water slide that uses gravity to move a toy from the beginning of the slide to a pool at the end. Engineering design challenges such as this promote critical thinking skills, foster scientific reasoning, and encourage cooperation and perseverance.

Although it is not always evident, we use the Engineering Design Process when we solve problems every day.


  • An assortment of household materials (Recommended examples include: cardboard tubes, straws, plastic wrap, foil, waxed paper, pipe cleaners, paper cups, cardboard, tape, glue )
  •  Basin or baking pan (to be used as the pool)
  •  A plastic cup
  •  A watering can or pitcher (optional)
  • Small toys
  • Paper
  • Pencil
  • 12 oz. water bottles (consider using these, cut lengthwise, as the main components of your slide. Your slide’s length will determine the number of bottles you need.)
  • Utility knife (for adult use only), scissors
  • Fun extra: color your water with blue or green food coloring. Ask an adult for help.

Student’s Job

Work with a partner to design and build a water slide that uses gravity to move a toy from the top of the slide into a pool.

  1. Plan a design for your water slide. What materials will you use? How will you keep the water contained in the slide? What will you use to support your slide. Sketch and label your design.
  2. Use found materials to design and build your water slide and its supporting structure.
  3. Place your basin or pan (the pool) on a flat surface, preferably outdoors. Place your slide in the basin or pan and the toy at the top of the slide.
  4. Pour water down the slide. Does your slide hold the water? Does the toy travel down the slide? What happens if you change the height from which you pour the water? Explore what happens if you change the amount of water. Is there a difference between pouring the water from a cup instead of a container with a spout, like a watering can or pitcher?
  5. Improve your design by using what you’ve learned. You may also go on a Learning Walk to see what others have done. Ask them what is and isn’t working for them and why.

Further Challenges:

Can you design a water slide that has at least one curve?

Teacher’s Job

Standards Alignment

K-2-ETS1-1. Ask questions, make observations, and gather information about a situation people want to change to define a simple problem that can be solved through the development of a new or improved object or tool.

K-2-ETS1-2. Develop a simple sketch, drawing, or physical model to illustrate how the shape of an object helps it function as needed to solve a given problem.


3-ESS3-1. Make a claim about the merit of a design solution that reduces the impacts of a weather-related hazard.


2-ESS2-3. Obtain information to identify where water is found on Earth and that it can be solid or liquid.


Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.


Reason abstractly and quantitatively.


Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.

Prepare/ Background Info
  • Front load the students with a discussion about gravity. What is it? What do they know about it? Gravity – The force that makes objects fall toward the ground.
  • Introduce and/or review the Engineering Design Process. (See resource links)
  • Observe students as they work, looking for evidence of understanding. Do the children understand the relationship between the height of the slope and the rate of flow?
  • Between the weight/size of the toy and its rate of travel?
  • Are the students using the Engineering Design Process?
  • Connect their learning to the real world by introducing them to a related career in STEM: Water Park Engineer
Extend/ Take it Further

Can you do anything to your slide to make the toy travel faster? Slower?

What happens if you use a different sized toy? Does it travel any faster or slower?

Why do you think that happens?

Does the amount of water you use make a difference in the speed of the toy?

Facilitation Strategies

Praise effort and perseverance. Encourage children to draw a plan before building their prototype. Ask open-ended questions – How did that happen? How does it work?

Play to Notice (Learning Framework)

Cooperative, independent, or parallel, engaged, problem-solving.

Are the students engaged in cooperative play, as evidenced by back and forth discussion, sharing of resources, and division of labor?

Content Matter to Notice

Gravity moves water downhill. The angle of the slope and the amount of water affect flow.

SEL to Notice

Decision making, perseverance, cooperation, respect, tolerance, self-management, self-awareness.

Are the students actively listening to each other’s Ideas? Are students able to resolve differences harmoniously? Is everyone participating?


Photo Gallery & Resource Links


About Us

Our mission is to inspire lifelong learning for all through play, creativity, and exploration.

Hours and Admissions

Open 7 Days a Week

9:30am to 12:30pm and
1:30pm or 4:30pm

Reservations are available online. Reserve your tickets now, or purchase walk-up tickets when you arrive.

Masks are optional for most activities at PCM.

Group Visits

Providence Children's Museum is the ideal place for school field trips, camp outings, homeschool and community group trips and Scout excursions.

For Families

We’ve collected an extensive resource of creative activities that will engage kids and their caregivers wherever you may be.

About Play

While society often overlooks and undervalues play, we are here to celebrate and elevate it. Because we know play isn’t frivolous. It’s foundational.

PCM Lesson Plans

Check out our library of lesson plans for teachers and families. PCM has created a variety of lesson plans for teachers by teachers for children pre-k through early elementary.

Become a Partner

PCM has brought the magic of learning to life for over 40 years. As a trusted resource for families and children in southern New England, PCM is an anchor in our community.

Become a Partner

PCM has brought the magic of learning to life for over 40 years. As a trusted resource for families and children in southern New England, PCM is an anchor in our community.

More than a Museum
PCM is committed to serving the children of southern New England – regardless of their financial ability. 40% of the Museum’s budget is dedicated to welcoming one-third of the Museum’s total audience free of charge or at greatly reduced rates through a variety of outreach programs.