roller coaster physics, physics of roller coasters for kids, science of roller coasters for kids

Physics of Roller Coasters for Kids

Roller Coaster Physics for Kids is Fun!

I wish I had been introduced to physics at a young age in a way that made it fun. I learned physics, painfully, in high school and struggled through pre-med physics in college. I never got an intuitive sense of physics and my impression was that it was a formula to be memorized and calculated.

When I discovered the Roller Coaster Physics app (I think someone emailed me with a code), it sounded like an app for high school students. I was shocked to find that my son, then 7-years-old, not only insisted on using it upon finding it on my iPhone but was able to design the roller coaster of his dreams. The physics part was snuck in, which is just the way I like it.

I tried to design a roller coaster and I had trouble manipulating the track. My roller coaster accidentally went partially underground making it a lethal ride for my riders. My son thinks this is a gaming app (it is!). His roller coasters would have corkscrews and tunnels with a background in outer space. And his riders were not killed during their ride.

roller coaster physics, physics of roller coasters for kids, science of roller coasters for kids

Once you design your roller coaster using easy-to-use tools, you get to try it out virtually. This is where the fun (and physics) begins. You really get a sense for what it feels like to ride the roller coaster, minus the stomach drop, and there is a counter that runs alongside showing you first, the potential energy, as the roller coaster winds up, and then, the kinetic energy, as the roller coaster takes off.

I thought it would be fun to combine this app with building an actual roller coaster using K’nex Atomic Coaster and I am giving the K’nex set away!


K’nex Atomic Coaster, $48

Be warned: the coaster builds over 4 feet tall, using over 850 KNEX pieces and resulting in 37+ feet of track! It’s fully operational with 2 coaster cars and a motorized chain lift. You will be thankful that the instructions are color-coded instructions, although instructions that require color coding scare the bejesus out of me! However, my kids would be fine with these instructions! The age recommendation is 9 and up but I think my 8-year-old would love this toy!

 (click on image to view at Amazon)


Roller Coaster Physics App

I have more details on this app on my post of Best Science Apps for Kids.

Coaster Physics app

Coaster Physics.  $.99 for the app. What are the laws of Physics governing the motion of a roller coaster? How are speed and acceleration related? How does the g-force change at different points along the track? (Click on image to view at iTunes.)

I think that if kids play with both the app and the toy, they get a message that 1) physics is creative and 2) physics is fun. And, roller coasters, of course, rock!


Roller Coaster Books for Kids

Roller Coaster by Marla Frazee

Marla Frazee describes the thrill of riding a roller coaster for the first time in this charming picture book!

Roller Coasters: A Thrill Seeker’s Guide to the Ultimate Scream Machines by Robert Coker

A non-fiction book that takes the reader through the twists and turns of the world’s most extraordinary rides. For ages 9 and up.


… and a Ferris Wheel book!

Mr. Ferris and His Wheel by Kathryn Gibbs Davis, illustrated by Gilbert Ford

Review by Randomly Reading:

Kathryn Gibbs Davis has written this wonderfully detailed, absolutely accessible picture book about the first Ferris wheel for older readers who have most likely seen and maybe ever ridden a Ferris wheel, but who probably have never thought about how it was done, or by whom, for that matter. [picture book, ages 4 and up]



A few Physics Terms for Kids

I found it easy to sneak these physics terms into the conversation as I “rode” the roller coasters my son built. It’s especially fun to watch the energy counters move as you go up versus down the roller coaster. And it’s just an easy leap to compare speed to acceleration. I think familiarization with the vocabulary of physics makes it more intuitive, particularly when they can relate it to something they are doing. I would love to hear what your child thinks of the roller coaster app and if this helps spark an interest in physics. Thanks for sharing!


Potential energy is the energy of an object or a system due to the position of the body or the arrangement of the particles of the system. (i.e. moving up the roller coaster)

The kinetic energy of an object is the energy which it possesses due to its motion. (i.e. coming down the roller coaster)

The speed of an object is the rate of change of its position (or velocity) as measured by length divided by time.

Acceleration is the change in the velocity of a body with respect to time.

Why Does Your Stomach Drop On A Roller Coaster? (No one knows for sure!)

“The honest answer is that no one knows with absolute certainty,” said Dr. Brad Sagura, a surgeon at University of Minnesota’s Amplatz Children’s Hospital. “There’s a cast network of nerve connections within the body, handling messages between the spinal cord, the brain and other structures,” Sagura said. from CBS Minnesota

Using nothing but LEGO components, the team at Brickride builds supercool rollercoasters.

This is a time elapse video of how they made the roller coaster.


To win the K’NEX Atomic Coaster, please see rafflecopter below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Congrats to Ann. She won the K’NEX Atomic Coaster!


Image is from Wikipedia. It’s the 310 ft tall Millennium Force at Cedar Point. Yikes!Follow PragmaticMom’s board Science Fun on Pinterest.

By Mia Wenjen, PragmaticMom


  1. I’m not a huge fan of roller coasters – but I do remember going on a big one when I was 11 or so and enjoying the thrill – just not enough to ride twice!

    Now, the PHYSICS of roller coasters is something that fascinates me!
    maryanne recently posted…Simple BOY Birthday Party: BatmanMy Profile

    • Hi MaryAnne,
      My son had so much fun designing roller coasters with that app and I was able to sneak in the idea of potential versus kinetic energy as we went up his roller coaster and then sailed down it. You almost get that dropping stomach feeling; the graphics are pretty darn good! I thought it would be fun to pair with the K’NEX kit to build one as well. I love STEM when it’s play.
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Physics of Roller Coaster for Kids K’NEX GIVEAWAYMy Profile

  2. Dee

    Admission time here. I don’t really like roller coasters, although I DO like flume type rides, so I’ll pick Splash Mountain at Disney World as my fave.
    Dee recently posted…Creeping back in…My Profile

  3. The Aerosmith Rock n’ Roller Coaster at Disney Hollywood Studios. We love K’nex – we’ve got another roller coaster kit, so I’m ready to build a theme park.
    Christy recently posted…How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The MusicalMy Profile

  4. Jeanette from Artchoo

    I love roller coasters! I got the stomach drop by just looking at your roller coaster pic. This toy looks amazingly fun- you find the coolest stuff, girl.
    Jeanette from Artchoo recently posted…11 Creative Gifts for Your Awesomely Creative ChildrenMy Profile

    • Hi Jeanette,
      Actually, I find the coolest stuff on your site. That gizmo from Paper Source that makes stickers … I bought it for PickyKidPix and she’s gonna die when she opens it. It’s sooo perfect for her and the only gift that is a surprise so far (she’s very good at eavesdropping and figuring out surprises). I am not opening the box until I can wrap it and put it under the tree. She’s been guessing for weeks and she hasn’t figured it out yet. She just knows it’s from the Paper Source from the box. It’s driving her crazy! Many thanks for that gift idea! I’m so glad I subscribe to your blogs!!!
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Physics of Roller Coaster for Kids K’NEX GIVEAWAYMy Profile

  5. Maria Gianferrari

    I LOVE roller coasters–the thrill–the wind in my hair, the snapping turns just as much as when I was a kid. The only difference–I need to make sure I use the restroom first!

    My all-time favorite roller coaster would have to be the “Mountain Flyer” at the now defunct Mountain Park in Holyoke, MA. I was in first grade, and it was my first real roller coaster ride: the clickety-clack of the wheels on the track; the pungent smell of rubber (hopefully not faulty brakes!); the criss-cross pattern of white wood; shrill screams; steep drops, sharp turns.

    I still love roller coasters, I just hate waiting in the long lines to ride them!


  6. Tammy

    My favorites were always the ones that you hang below the track. So much fun!

  7. Joanne Gregory

    I do not do roller coasters; Ever. But my husband likes the ones at Universal in Orlando.

  8. Ann

    Great post! This is how I like my roller coasters, in app, toy, and book form! Thanks for the chance, my kids would love this!!!
    Ann recently posted…Bam!booMy Profile

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