Simple Machines | Pulley

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This is the fourth in a series of posts looking at Simple Machines (Lever, Wedge, Inclined Plane, Pulley, Wheel and Axle, Screw). Becoming more aware of Pulleys, and other Simple Machines, in your early learning setting will make you more confident supporting STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) play and answering children’s questions about how many everyday items work.

What’s A Pulley?

A pulley is a wheel, often with a grooved rim that serves as a channel for a cable or belt, that is situated on an axle or shaft. The pulley changes the direction of force applied to the cable/belt or transfers power between the axle and cable/belt.12

Pulleys can either be Fixed (the pulley stays in place) or Moveable (the pulley moves with the load.

Pulleys can also be used in combination to reduce the effort needed to move a load.

Pulleys are used in engines to drive serpentine belts that power peripheral devices like air conditioning and power steering.

Pulleys play important rolls in other machinery too. For example, my bandsaw has a lower and upper pulley. The lower pulley is connected to a drive shaft powered by the motor. Instead of a belt, like in the engine above, the bandsaw pulleys drive the saw’s blade.

My drill press is full of pulleys too. A combination of three sets of pulleys and two belts transfers power from the motor to the drill bit installed in the drive head. Why so many pulleys? Different pulley combinations dictate how fast the drill bit spins. This allows me to set the optimal speed for specific hole sizes and materials.

Examples Of Pulleys

From elevators to flag poles, pulleys are all over the place if you start looking for them.

Pulley Learning

Playing with pulleys offers kids a chance at all kinds of STEM play and learning. Pulley play is also rich in opportunities to hone social skills (“When will it be my turn”, “Can you help me pull this rope”) and build large and small muscle strength and control.

Unfortunately most early learning settings are not set up for pulley play. That can be rectified by installing a classroom pulley system.


Pulleys can be a great addition to early learning settings. I’d love to hear how you use pulleys with kids–you can share thoughts and pictures in the comments section.

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I'm an early learning speaker, podcaster, content creator, author, and founder of Playvolution HQ and Explorations Early Learning.