Electricity Experiments for Kids

Spring fever, anyone?  The end of the school year definitely calls for some high-interest activities to keep kids (and mom!) on board with the whole homeschooling thing!

I announced to the boys last week that we were going to study electricity and magnetism, and they were thrilled!  Before I had kids, I taught science to groups of homeschoolers.  It was a blast, and I had the time to come up with all sorts of neat activities.  Thankfully, I saved all my notes and supplies so that I can easily do the activities with my own boys!

Electricity and magnetism are related to each other.  In fact, both can create the other.  In today’s post, I’ll show you how to build a simple circuit with your kids, and then in a future post, I’ll show how to build an electromagnet.  You will be an instant hero!

Background info:

Electricity is caused by flowing electrons.  If your kids are not familiar with atoms, you might want to draw them a picture.  The center of the atom has protons (+) and neutrons (no charge).  Electrons (-) circle around the nucleus of the atom.

If you rub a balloon on your hair, some of the electrons rub off the balloon and onto your hair.  The balloon is positively charged (because it now has more protons than electrons).  Your hair is negatively charged (because it now has more electrons than protons).  Opposite charges attract, which makes your hair stand on end when you hold the charged balloon close to it.  This is static electricity.

The electricity that flows through the wires in our homes is current electricity. Batteries use a chemical reaction to create current electricity.

For more information on electricity, check out the Magic Schoolbus and the Electric Field Trip.  I love the Magic Schoolbus books for their content and for the fact that they are interesting to a wide range of ages.

To power a device such as a lightbulb, you need a circuit – an unbroken circle – for the electricity to flow through.

To make a circuit, you need copper wire, a 6 volt lantern battery, alligator clips, and a lightbulb.

We used wires with built-in alligator clips and a neat little lightbulb holder from Science Wiz: Electricity.  You could probably buy all the parts for less at Home Depot, but if you’re short on time, I really recommend this set.  It came with a book, the wires with alligator clips, a lightbulb holder, a lightbulb, a basic switch, an electric motor, and an electric buzzer.

*Note:  If you build your own circuit (without a neat lightbulb holder), you need to have one wire touch the very bottom of the lightbulb and the other wire touch the side of the lightbulb like this.  Otherwise, your lightbulb won’t light up.

A switch is simply a break in a circuit.  This switch came with our set, but would be really easy to duplicate at home with an index card, two metal paper fasteners, and a paper clip.  When the paper clip is touching both of the paper fasteners, the lightbulb lights up!  Move the paper clip away from one of the fasteners, and the light goes out.

Here is what the underside of the switch looks like.

The paper switch shows how a switch works, but I also bought a real light switch from Home Depot, and we hooked up the wires to that.  The boys had so much fun switching the switch and watching the light bulb turn on and off!

Another fun thing to do with your circuit is to experiment with what materials conduct electricity.  A balloon does not, but a penny does!  You can also try a metal bottle cap, an eraser, and a sponge.

Now whenever Aidan flips a light switch, he says, “Look!  I just made a break in the circuit and the light is going off!”  So fun to see him excited about learning, especially at a point in the year when we are all ready to throw the books out the window…

What are you doing to stay motivated this spring?

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