We love snow days in Wonderopolis! When the first snowflakes begin to fall just as we’re going to bed, we wonder what the landscape will look like in the morning.

If we wake up to a blanket of white, we have one thing on our minds: sledding!

Do you have a sled? Or a toboggan? Maybe even a sleigh? What’s the difference between these things anyway?

Whatever you call them, they all work in a similar way. Whether they have a smooth bottom or a small platform that sits on long, narrow runners, they travel by sliding across a low-friction surface, such as snow or ice.

For example, the blades of grass on a hill would normally not allow you to slide down very quickly because they help your body stay in contact with the ground. The blades of grass and the ground itself both create friction, which is a force that generates heat and tends to slow objects down.

Try rubbing your palms together, pushing slightly as you move your hands. The resistance you feel is friction. Friction slows an object down.

If those blades of grass and the ground get coated with ice or snow, however, things change dramatically. Ice and snow create a boundary between you and the ground, allowing you to speed down the hill because the forces of friction are greatly reduced.

Have you ever wondered why people sled downhill? If you combine the force of gravity with the reduced force of friction, a sled will travel downhill easily with just the weight of the sled and its rider.

On flat ground, however, you don’t have the added boost of momentum from the slope of the hill. If you want to go somewhere, you’ll need a source of power, such as a push from a friend or a pull from an animal.

And that brings us back to the difference between sleds and sleighs. Sleds are smaller vehicles used mainly for recreational activities, like sledding.

Sleighs, on the other hand, are much larger vehicles. They usually have open tops, seats for multiple passengers and must be pulled by animals, such as horses… or reindeer!

In many cold-weather countries, sleighs are used as alternatives to traditional carriages or wagons. They were often the primary means of transportation until the 20th century.

Today, sleighs are still used in many countries as a means of transportation when roads get bad. But the confusion doesn’t end with sleds and sleighs!

There are also toboggans (long sleds without runners with a curled front), saucers (round, curved sleds without runners, often made of plastic or metal) and tubes (inflatable plastic sleds that weigh very little).

There are also special sleds used for specific sports. These, too, have their own special names. If you watch the Winter Olympics, you may have seen bobsleds, luges and skeletons!

 

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    • You’re right, Mak! Thanks so much for being the first Wonder Friend to leave us a comment on today’s Wonder of the Day®! :-)

  1. I like this video, it’s pro. I know what a sled from a sleigh is. Santa uses a sleigh, we use a sled. Can you make a hockey one?

  2. Dear Wonderopolis,
    I did not know that a sleigh was used for tradition, but now I now. Thank you for that information! I was wondering, though, how many people can the largest sleigh hold? And I think that the wonder of the day will be about crabs because the part that says wonder whats next says don’t get CRABBY.

    Sincerely,
    Abbe from team Turner :-) :-)

    • Hi, Abbe! We’re not sure how many people the largest sleigh can hold. We will have to do some more WONDERing about that one! Thank you for guessing what you think the next Wonder will be about. Let’s visit Wonderopolis again tomorrow to see if you were right! :-)

  3. Dear Wonderopolis,
    I really never knew there was such a difference from a sleigh and a sled. I have a sled at home! But, there is only room for a couple people on the sled.
    I think tomorrow’s wonder of the day will have to do with crabs. (Oh, second comment!)
    I learned that on a sled, there’s only room for a couple people. On a sleigh, there is room for multiple numbers of people.
    That is an amazing fact, by the way!

    –Hannah From Team Turner

    • We are so happy that you learned some amazing facts by exploring this Wonder of the Day®, Hannah! Thanks so much for being a GREAT Wonder Friend! :-)

  4. The video was funny. There were lots of wipe-outs! We saw the collision. We wish there was more snow here. :(

    Where do you get all of your videos?? Could we submit a video for an upcoming “wonder”?

    Also, we wish we knew what you looked like! Can you send us a picture, or are you a mystery?

    Thanks! :)

    • Those are some REALLY awesome questions, 5A in Gibbons!! We’re not a mystery…there are LOTS of people who work, live and play here in Wonderopolis! You can absolutely submit a video link for a future Wonder of the Day®! Just click on the “nominate” link at the top of every page in Wonderopolis! There’s a special place to submit a link to a video or image on that page! :-)

  5. We like to look at the “what’s ahead” and try to guess what tomorrow’s wonder of the day might be. (We check out the website everyday!)

    We think tomorrow’s will be about crabs, lobsters, crawfish and maybe some clams.

    Or just waking up in the morning and being tired and “crabby”.

    Can you give us another hint?

    • Thank you for visiting Wonderopolis every day and trying to guess what the next day’s Wonder will be, Rm 20 Mapleshade School 5th grade! We try to only give out a small clue to keep you and all of our Wonder Friends guessing and coming back to learn new things every day! :-)

    • That’s a big part of what WONDERing is all about, Jeffrey…learning new things! We learned a lot from exploring today’s Wonder of the Day®, and we’re glad you did, too! :-)

    • Let us know how it goes with your homemade sled, Henry! We think that’s a GREAT idea to use what you’ve got around the house for some extra snow day fun! Way to go! :-)

    • Hello, Dennis! It makes us really happy to hear that you love the Wonders of the Day® you visit in Wonderopolis! Thanks for letting us know! :-)

  6. Be careful sledding on ice, sleds can go really fast. If you see a bump in the snow, be careful, it can cause you to fly and flip. We live in Oklahoma, so we don’t get a lot of snow here to sled. Except for last year, we had 18 inches, and we all got to go sledding.

    • WOW! 18 inches is a LOT of snow, Mrs. Gottlob’s 3rd hour class! We’re glad you all got to have fun sledding last year. Maybe you will get a lot of snow this year, too! Thank you for sharing your sledding safety tips. We appreciate them very much! :-)

  7. We love Wonderopolis. We laughed so hard at the kids falling from their sleds!

    Thanks Wonderopolis! See you tomorrow!

    Your friends – the KF Dragons

    • We’re sure glad you visited Wonderopolis today and left us this GREAT comment, Mr. Fines and KF Dragons! What WONDERful Wonder Friends you all are! We laughed at the video, too! We hope it snows soon here in Wonderopolis so we can go sledding! :-)

    • That’s really awesome that this Wonder helped you with your homework, Henry! Thanks for letting us know you stopped by Wonderopolis today! :-)

  8. WIPE OUT!!! LOL! I love to go tobogganing with my friend, Amanda, but we wiped out a lot more times. I landed on my back and Amanda landed on her leg all the time, but there’s hardly any snow here in Gibbons. :(

    • We’re sending good wishes for some GREAT snow in Gibbons this winter, Kimberlee! Thanks for visiting Wonderopolis and for sharing your personal connection to this Wonder! :-)

  9. I think that tomorrow’s wonder will be about crabs because “crabby” will most likely relate to crabs. This is a great wonder!

    • We think you’re pretty smart, Lynn! Thanks for using the clue to try and guess what the next Wonder of the Day® will be about! You ROCK! :-)

    • Hi, Lindsay! Thanks so much for leaving us a comment today! We’re not sure how Santa gets to all the places he does in such a short amount of time…his sleigh must be super, super fast! :-)

    • We think sledding and sleighing are BOTH lots of fun, Yo Yo! Thank you for stopping by today’s Wonder and leaving us another awesome comment! :-)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • How are sleds and sleighs different?
  • Why do sleds move so quickly on snow?
  • Are sleighs still used for travel?

Wonder Gallery

boys on sled_shutterstock_8874892Vimeo Video

Try It Out

Ready to go sledding? First, you’ll need some snow. If the weather in your area isn’t cooperating yet, we can’t help you. You’ll just have to wait!

If you have snow where you live, then you’re good to go! If you don’t have a sled, don’t worry about it. You can make a homemade sled out of all sorts of items you might already have around the house or the garage.

Do you have any inflatable pool toys? If so, blow them up, and you’re ready to go. Rafts make good toboggans, and tubes make good… well… tubes, of course!

If you want a saucer-like experience, look for a plastic storage bin lid, a garbage can lid, an old satellite dish, the lid from a toilet seat or even an old cafeteria tray from school. You can also use old shower curtains, plastic laundry baskets and cardboard boxes as impromptu sleds.

If you make a homemade sled using one of these ideas, email us a picture, or post a picture to Facebook. We’d love to see you sledding on your homemade vehicle!

 

Still Wondering

Read National Geographic Education’s Snow Bound article to learn how “Snowshoe” Thompson pioneered mail delivery on skis in the Sierra Nevada.

 

Wonder Categories/Tags

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Tags

friction  gravity  sled  sleigh 

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