Potential and Kinetic Energy

There are two basic types of energy. Potential energy is the ability an object has to move. Kinetic energy is the energy an object has while it is moving. The same object can have both potential and kinetic energy. 


A skateboarder on the top of a hill has potential energy because of gravity. Due to his position at the top of the hill, he has the potential to move. Once he gets started down the hill, he will be moving because gravity will be “pulling” him down the hill.

A ball that is thrown in the air has both potential and kinetic energy too. It has kinetic energy because it is moving and has potential energy because it is being pulled back to the ground by gravity. A ball sitting on the ground has no energy. When you pick it up and throw it, you are giving it energy.

How do people get energy to throw balls, run around, and move? We get potential energy from food. An apple is full of chemical potential energy. You can eat that apple, and the nutrients in it will give your body the energy to move. When you move, you are full of kinetic energy. You also have potential energy from the food you ate, but haven’t used yet.

There are many other different kinds of energy such as heat, light, and sound. These are all types of kinetic energy since they have to do with particles moving. 

When a liquid heats up, the molecules that make up the liquid move around faster and faster. This is why water boils. Light energy is made up of light particles moving. Sounds are heard when molecules bump into each other. What do all of these energies have in common? Movement!

Energy cannot be created or destroyed. Instead, energy changes form. Potential energy can become kinetic energy, and kinetic energy can become potential energy. Energy can also be transferred between different objects.

All types of energy can be labeled as either potential or kinetic. All objects with potential energy have the potential to move. Objects with kinetic energy are moving. Find some objects with potential and kinetic energy in your classroom!