Learn How a Pulley Can Help Us Play


Learn How a Pulley Can Help Us Play

February 17, 2022

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How do giraffes play if they can't reach their toys?

A simple machine can be an easy way to hoist a toy to eye level if you have a ways to grow!

Play is as important for animals as it is for us, and zookeepers are always brainstorming new ways to help keep the animals under their care happy, healthy, and active.

Enrichment Stimulates Curiosity

One way that keepers do this is by using enrichment, which occurs when new scents, objects, or food are added to an animal’s living space to support their well-being.

The innovative zookeepers at the Great Plains Zoo & Delbridge Museum of Natural History in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, are always coming up with new ways to provide creative enrichment opportunities for their animals.

Giraffes play with balls held up by a pulley system.
A pulley brings enrichment items up to eye level of a giraffe at the Great Plains Zoo.

A Simple Machine to the Rescue

Recently, their giraffes got a new pulley that hoists up enrichment objects to keep them active and stay warm and cozy in their winter enclosure during the chilly months.

A pulley is a type of simple machine that makes lifting objects easier.

A pulley is made by looping a rope or chain over one or more wheels.

How Tall is a Giraffe Anyway?

In the case of the giraffe’s pulley, it not only helps the zookeeper lift heavy objects, but it also helps them hoist the enrichment items all the way up to the eye level of the giraffes.

Did you know that with an average height of 14 to 18 feet, giraffes are the tallest mammals? A pulley is a perfect solution in helping keep these tall animals moving and grooving during the cold winter days.

Pulleys are also fun to explore in your own home. We’ve been playing along with them in our Maker Studio and invite you to give it a try! Keep reading for our Recipe for Play.

Recipe for Play

Collect the items from the suggested list below.

  • Empty ribbon, string, or yarn spools
  • Length of string, at least a yard
  • Tape
  • Small wooden dowel
  • A weighted object to add to the pulley

Let’s Get Started!

  1. Find a spot in your home that you can balance and suspend a wooden dowel (chairs, stacking blocks, and storage containers work great!)
  2. Secure an empty spool to the middle of the dowel using tape.
  3. Attach a weighted object to one end of a piece of the string. This will be the object the pulley pulls up and down.
  4. Hang the string over the top of the attached spool. Test your pulley by pulling down the end of the string without the attached object. If the object moves up, you’ve made a successful pulley! Experiment by positioning your pulley at different heights and adding different objects of varying weights.

Let’s Wrap it Up!

Though there may be a sizable difference between the giraffe’s enrichment pulley and the pulleys you build at home, the same physics concepts are taking place.

The more wheels that you have on a pulley, and the more times a string or rope is looped around them, the more you can lift. Pulleys also reverse the direction of your lifting force (when you pull down on the pulley, the weighted object moves up).

Simple machines are as beneficial to humans as they are for animals. Just ask the giraffes on your next visit to the Great Plains Zoo; they can’t seem to get enough of them!

Want to solve more real-world problems?