Tuesday, September 23, 2014

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Electricity With Preschoolers & Squishy Circuits

My preschoolers have been asking a lot of questions about electricity, lights, and batteries lately, so I wanted to start an electronics and electricity unit with all the kiddos.  After a little research, I discovered Squishy Circuits.




The concept behind squishy circuits is brilliant: children use child-friendly components to experiment and learn about electricity.  The best part: the components are "plugged in" to play dough!  The kits are wonderfully safe!

Our first lab was building a simple circuit to "light up" an LED.  Before we started we talked about one simple rule in simple preschool-language:  do not touch any metal pieces together.  This was to prevent shorting out any components.

The kids got right to work:


I showed them how to make the simplest circuit: each end of the battery pack is plugged into a pile of conductive play dough and an LED component bridges the two piles of play dough.  The LED lights up!  The preschoolers quickly set about to build their own circuits and discovered their first electricity principle:  electricity is directional. It flows in one direction.  If the preschoolers set the LED in backwards, it would not light up.  But, if they turned it around, it lit up.  I used my finger to show them the path it took from the battery pack, down the red wire, across the LED, and back via the black wire.

They continued to experiment. Most popular second experiment:  adding more lights!


Older children might appreciate that these lights are connected in a parallel circuit and can all be as bright as just one light.  Our preschoolers tried adding every light possible!




They also started getting curious about how the circuit worked...  "What happens if I unplug the battery pack?"  Well...


...the lights went out! This was a great chance to talk about a complete "closed" circuit.  We also heard a few stories from kiddos who had the lights go out in their homes during a recent storm!

Another "broken" circuit:


(And, yes, we had some dinosaurs join in the experiments!)

When the preschoolers wanted to make some "fancy circuits," I asked them what supplies they wanted.  They told me they could get them by themselves.  Pretty soon, toothpicks, Strawberry Shortcake, the dinosaurs, and a fairy, had joined the experiment table:




When the kids realized they could add a buzzer or a motor in with their lights, they had even more fun!  (Imagine about nine 3-7 year olds bouncing up and down and clapping their hands as home-made sirens go on and off, over and over...)

You could certainly go to a store and buy these components, but it would be so much easier to let someone else assemble them for you.  Imagine a battery pack with child-safe wires, a motor, a piezoelectric buzzer, a mechanical buzzer, 25 LEDs in red, yellow, blue, green, and white, and a recipe card for conducting and insulating play dough...and you will have the Squishy Circuits Hardware Kit.  Squishy Circuits was kind enough to provide a few of these kits for review purposes and I am absolutely thrilled to tell you how much we loved them!

Amazon Affiliate Link:



For only $25, you can get the following, all packaged up in a convenient box with instructions for making your own conducting and insulating doughs:

* 25 LEDs (in red, yellow, blue, green, and white)
* 1 battery pack (you will need 4 AA's to put in the pack)
* 1 piezoelectric buzzer
* 1 mechanical buzzer
* 1 motor

If you are working with several children you may want to order extra battery packs, but our experience was that the 25 LEDs in one kit were more than enough for groups of three children to share.  

After our preschoolers were done, my 7-year old spent some more time designing more complicated circuits.  You can see specific instructions for building circuits (and fun projects like a glowing animal!) at the University of St. Thomas website.  The squishy circuits concept originally began as a research project at the University of St. Thomas, and their website has loads of great resources to use with it.  In fact, if you want to purchase your own supplies there are instructions to make the play doughs on the website too!  It provides a lot of background information so that if you are not particularly comfortable with electricity, circuits, batteries, and buzzers, you will be in no time!  My daughter's next plan is to use the same components in one of the kits to make a clothespin car that actually moves!

Our preschoolers thought that our Squishy Circuits labs have been some of the best they've ever done!  At their request, we have repeated them several times...and they learn new things every time!  

Here are a few of my tips for learning about electricity with preschoolers:

* Keep it simple!!  You don't need to front-load a ton of information.  Let them discover as they explore.

* Keep it safe.  The battery packs from Squishy Circuits will hold four AA batteries...that's a total of 6 volts.  Nobody will get hurt using that much electricity.  Do not ever let your kiddos experiment with things plugged into your wall.

* Keep it fun!  Your kids will learn so much more when they are having fun.  I love the Squishy Circuits kit because I could hand it to them and, with very little instruction, let them enjoy the learning process.

Bonus Tips if you use Squishy Circuits:

If you order a Squishy Circuit kit (and I totally recommend that you do!), here are a few notes to make your life easier!

* Order enough battery packs that each child can have one...or at the very least use one battery pack per three children.  They can definitely take turns, but it's nice to have one to yourself.

* If your children are too young to understand that the lights will only work in one direction, consider purchasing the special bipolar LEDs that work in a different color in each direction.

* When you are done, wipe all metal surfaces off with a moist towel.  Salt residue from the conducting play dough will corrode the metal.  Eventually, the pieces will need replacing, but this will make them last longer.

* Particularly aggressive preschoolers may break the "legs" off the LEDs.  We only had one LED broken, but consider your children's abilities before you expect too much from them.


I am happily recommending Squishy Circuits to everybody!  They are a new small business, and I would love to see them grow!

AND...you can help them grow without even purchasing a kit!  If you want to help a small business that is making a difference in science education for children across the world, please click here to help them apply for a Mission Main Street Grant. They need to get over 250 votes to begin the process.  I have already voted and would love to have you join me!


Have you studied electricity with your preschoolers?  Would you like to?  I'd love to hear from you!!  Definitely let me know if you have any questions!

A few more resources:




I may share at any of these parties!


Disclaimer:  Squishy Circuits provided hardware kits for review purposes.  All opinions are 100% mine.  I only share products that I expect my readers to love!



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4 comments:

Christy McGuire said...

Sounds like fun! I could really see the benefit of the is kind of play as a high school teacher, and made sure my own kids have access to safe ways to play with electricity too.

Yuliya Fruman said...

What a great idea! It looks like such a fun way to explore electricity :)
Pinning!

Carla at Preschool Powol Packets said...

Christy, I used to teach high school science too, and I *completely* agree! Early science exploration is so beneficial!

Thanks so much for pinning Yuliya! It is a ton of fun!

Selena Robinson said...

These look so fun for early STEM education! And I love your new blog look!!!!

Stopping by from the Mommy Club linky. :)