Just because it’s summer vacation doesn’t mean that learning has to stop for kids! Take some time this season to teach your kids about electricity beyond the typical safety tips with these three fun experiments they’ll love.
STATIC ELECTRICTY PROJECT
Show kids the power of static electricity and how it works with this fun, hands-on project. You’ll need:
- Toilet paper
- Other tiny objects (like dirt or tiny sequins)
- Smooth surface
- Water (optional)
1. Tear the toilet paper into tiny pieces – the smaller the better!
2. Lay TP pieces on a smooth surface, such as a countertop or table.
3. Rub the comb in your hair to create a static charge – “teasing” the hair leads to the best results! (Have you ever seen the static caused by rubbing a balloon in your hair? Make the same motion with the comb.)
4. Once the comb is “charged,” bring it close to the pieces of paper – the pieces will jump onto the comb!
Explain to the kids that when you rub the comb in your hair it creates a static charge by collecting electrons on the comb. These electrons have a negative charge, so when you bring the comb near the toilet paper, it sucks the toilet paper to the comb because the negatively charged electrons are trying to become positive again.
Note: You can also do this experiment with water. Repeat the same steps, but instead of using paper particles, turn the sink on to a slow trickle. Then hold the charged comb right next to the water and watch the stream move to try and touch the comb!
EASY PLAY DOUGH CIRCUITS
Did you know that you can use playdough to learn about circuits? Yeah – because of the salt content of playdough, it can actually conduct electricity! You’ll need:
1. Test your dough! Roll out into two playdough “logs.” Insert the red wire on the battery pack (usually this is the positive one) into one of the logs, and the black wire (the negative one) into the other log. Then grab one of your LEDs and stick one prong into each log. (If you really want to impress your kids, let them know that one of the prongs is called the anode and the other is called the cathode.) Turn on the battery pack and see what happens!
And that’s it. Once you know your electrical current works, your kids can get really creative with making shapes and structures and seeing what they can do. They can even use multiple LEDs to create a series.
Note: Make sure the LEDs are positioned properly. Electricity can only go through an LED one way (through the long leg – the positive one – and out the short leg, the negative).
MAKE AN ELECTROMAGNET
You can use an electrical current to turn a large nail into a magnet. The electrical current causes the electrons in the nail to all spin the same direction, which creates magnetism. You will need:
- 6-volt lantern battery
- long piece of copper wire
- alligator clips (like these)
- a large nail
- paper clips
1. Strip a small amount of the covering off the copper wire on both ends.
2. Wrap the exposed wire around the nail.
3. You’ll need a circuit with the ends of the wire attached to the terminals of the battery. Connect the ends of the wire to wires with alligator clips and then to the battery terminals. Boom! You’ve got an electromagnet!
4. Test out your magnet’s strength by making a chain of paper clips! (Note: if you use large paper clips, it will probably only pick up one.)
Warning: the ends of the wires will get hot! This is called resistance, because all electrical conductors oppose the flow of electricity to some degree. Some of the electricity is lost as heat.