Electricity for Kids: Learning about Currents, Static, and Electrical Safety

Posted on June 11, 2018 by Mike Strayer

Electricity for Kids: Learning about Currents, Static, and Electrical Safety

Kids are exposed to electricity long before they even realize what it is. Think about kids’ cartoons. The characters are often represented as having an idea when a lightbulb image appears above their head, or characters take cover during a lightning storm. While these are some more obvious examples of kids being exposed to the concept of electricity, you might be surprised by what they’ve already picked up on in their day to day life!

Today, even young children have some idea of what electricity does at home, like charging your phone or powering their favorite battery-operated toy, but that only scratches the surface of understanding. Learning about electricity introduces children to elementary scientific concepts that can help them understand and interact with the world around them.

By learning the basics about how electricity works and doing a few fun, safe experiments with currents and differences in charge, kids can begin to understand the significance of electricity in their day-to-day lives and the importance of electrical safety.

How to Teach Kids About Electricity

Struggling to remember the first time your child would have been exposed to the idea of electricity? Hint: It was probably storming! Whether they sat at the window enraptured or hid because it was “too loud,” you’ve more than likely already given some explanation of the phenomenon going on outside during electrical storms. That phenomenon is what we call electricity.

What Is Electrical Energy?

The next time you and your kids experience a storm with thunder and lightning, you can teach them about electrical energy. But before we dive into electrical energy, let’s first brush up on your high school physics.

Energy is the capacity to apply force or pressure to an object to heat, move, or perform work on it. Electrical energy is a specific form of energy that is the result of an electric charge. The force exerted on an object is based on either an electrical attraction or electrical repulsion between charged particles.

What Is The Basic Law of Electricity?

Regarding electricity, there is one basic law that governs the entire process: Ohm’s law. This law was appropriately named after, Georg Ohm, the physicist who first identified it. Georg Ohm discovered that an electrical current moving through a conductor is proportional to the voltage over the resistance. This discovery led to following formula known as Ohm’s Law, which depicts the relationship between Voltage, Current, and Resistance in the formula below:

How to Generate Electricity

Thanks to a different scientist named Michael Faraday, we now know what causes electricity. In the 1820s, Faraday determined that he could generate electricity by moving a loop of conductive metal between a magnet’s poles.

Because electrons can move freely in copper wire and carry a negative charge, Faraday learned that he could generate energy due to the attractive forces between positively charged protons and negatively charged electrons. The force between the protons and electrons is what exerts force on a given object.

What Is The Definition of Electric Current?

An electric current is used to refer to an electric charge being in motion but it can also refer to a more controlled form of electricity like fuel cells, generators, batteries, solar cells, etc.

What Is An Example of An Electric Current?

As listed above, depending on which type of electric current you’re referring to, it can be many different things. However, some common ones that you may recognize are lightning bolts, static electricity, or a sudden spark you feel when coming into contact with a new object.

What Is The Difference Between Voltage and Current?

Referring back to Ohm’s law can help to distinguish the difference between voltage and current. Remember, Ohm’s law is written as:

In this equation, V stands for voltage and I stands for current. Voltage is calculated as the difference between two points while current is defined as the rate at which a given charge is flowing. Current is calculated by dividing voltage by the resistance.

Fun, Safe Electricity Experiments for Kids

Now that you better understand electricity, it’ll be easier to explain it to kids. Learning about electricity can become fun and interactive if you take matters into your own hands. If you’re wanting to expose your kids to the concept of electricity, there are a couple of easy and safe ways to do so, but one of our favorites is the time-tested simple electric circuit.

What Is A Simple Electric Circuit?

A simple electric circuit is a circular path made of wires that allow for the flow of electrons from a power source to an object.

How Does A Simple Electric Circuit Work?

To create your own simple electric circuit, all you need is a power source (such as a battery) that gives the electrons the force they need to move. The next thing you need is an object to receive the electrical energy, like a lightbulb. The simple electric circuit allows the charged electrons to flow through the wiring from the battery to the light bulb, resulting in the light bulb lighting up.

Static Electricity for Kids

Static electricity is a common example of an electric current, so it should come as no surprise that it makes for a great candidate for teaching kids about electricity.

What Are The Three Laws of Static Electricity?

There are three basic laws that define static electricity. They are as follows:

Opposite charges attract one another.
Like charges repel each other.
Charged objects attract neutral objects.

How Does Static Electricity Work?

If you’ve ever wondered how static electricity works, here’s your answer. Static electricity occurs by rubbing two things together vigorously. The science behind this phenomenon is called triboelectricity.

The triboelectric effect occurs when two objects with different charges come into contact. While all atoms have a central positive core and a cloud of negatively-charged electrons, certain objects exert attraction more strongly than others. This means that when we seperate the two objects, one of the objects may have gained a few extra electrons due to the other object losing some, resulting in a different in charge which generates static electricity.

What Are Some Examples of Static Electricity?

Now that you have a better understanding of static electricity, you can apply your knowledge to teaching your children about it by running some fun experiments with a few common household objects.

One of the most common and best-known examples of static electricity is a balloon sticking to an article of clothing after being vigorously rubbed up against it. Another common example is generating static electricity by shuffling your feet against the living room carpet and giving someone else a tiny shock by touching them.

What Causes A Person To Have A Backlog of Static Electricity?

Static electricity can build up on a person’s clothing due to an excess of positive or negative ions that don’t have anywhere to go. For instance, your clothing isn’t metallic, so the energy cannot be conducted out of your clothing or body. Once you touch something metallic, however, like a doorknob which doesn’t have any positive ions (and you have an excess) the energy “jumps” from you to the metal object.

How Can Static Electricity Be Used?

Although static electricity can be a nuisance (e.g. a sock getting stuck to your clothing or your hair sticking up during winter), it’s actually more useful than many may realize.

Consider a photocopier. This device actually functions similarly to the balloon sticking to you to create copies. Through the use of positive and negative ions, an image can be captured and copied using static electricity.

Another benefit of static electricity? Pollution control! When you apply a static charge to a dirt particle in the air, you can then collect those charged dirt particles on an electrostatic precipitator.

How Do You Get Rid of Static Electricity?

While static electricity is useful in some ways, there are some instances when it goes from a minor inconvenience to major annoyance. There are several ways to get rid of static electricity but two common options are simplest.

Wearing a shirt that is prone to static cling? For clothing that is clinging to your body, you can apply lotion to your skin which will eliminate the problem. Sick of your socks clinging to your jeans? Use dryer sheets. They help to reduce the static electricity that occurs while your clothes are constantly rubbing in the dryer.

What Is An Example of Static Electricity In Nature?

When it comes to static electricity in nature, it’s hard to beat lightning as an example. Lightning occurs due to electrostatic energy building in the clouds which creates storms. We see lightning when clouds of differently charged regions discharge their energy.

Electricity Experiments for Kids

If you’re looking to get your kids excited about energy, you should consider introducing them to a few simple activities that teach them about electricity in a fun and safe way. Here are some ideas of electricity experiments for kids that you will also enjoy!

Simple Electricity Projects

When it comes to simple electricity projects, it’s hard to beat the balloon example. To do this project, all you’ll need is an inflated balloon and a willing participant. Now, simply rub the balloon on the person’s shirt (wool sweaters work wonderfully) and voila! The balloon should be stuck to the person’s clothes.

Simple Electrical Projects for High School Students

Looking for something a bit more advanced for your high school students? Here’s a project that is just perfect for them. Earlier, we discussed the importance of simple electric circuits but here’s how you can make one of your own.

All you need are two D batteries, a small light, some tape, any type of wire, tin foil, an eraser, a button, a key, and a penny. Tape your two D batteries together and then tape the wire to the negative side of the battery. Next, tape your other wire to the light. Now, test the tin foil, eraser, button, key, and penny to see which items allow the light to illuminate!

Science Experiments on Electricity for 5th Graders

There are tons of fun science experiments on electricity for 5th graders but our personal favorite involves a bowl, a comb, and some salt and pepper. Have the students run the comb through their hair vigorously to create a static charge. Then, they should hold the comb above a mixture of salt and pepper in a bowl. The electrically charged comb should cause the pepper to “jump” up and attach to the comb.

Science Experiments on Electricity for 6th Graders

Here’s a more advanced take on the 5th grader experiment. All you need here is a comb and access to a sink with a faucet. For this experiment, you’ll again charge the comb by vigorously combing it through your hair. Then, you’ll turn on the faucet and slowly bring the comb as close to the water as you can without touching it. You’ll notice the water begin to “bend,” illustrating the effect that static electricity has on water.

Electrical Safety for Kids

While there are many fun experiments that kids can learn from, it’s important to always ensure that our number one priority is keeping kids safe around electricity. There are a number of ways to help prioritize the safety of kids when it comes to electricity.

How Can We Use Electricity Safely At Home?

One of the biggest concerns that we have regarding electricity safety at home center around electrical outlets. These are a hazard for children who may stick something into the outlet and inadvertently shock themselves. To safeguard against this, you can purchase outlet plug covers. These covers stick into the outlet, covering the contacts to prevent children from putting items into the socket.

Another important way to practice electrical safety at home is by educating kids to remember to turn off their electrical appliances when near water. When blow drying hair, keep all cords away from wet surfaces. This also goes for bathing. When in the bathtub, don’t use electronic devices.

Electricity Safety Poster

Frequently Asked Questions

Kids have a lot of questions about electricity, and that’s a great thing! Here are some questions kids ask when learning about electricity.

Can You Create Electricity With a Magnet?

When it comes to magnets, you can absolutely create electricity using them. Since magnets work by pushing and pulling electrons, a magnet that quickly moves through a copper wire can create electricity thanks to the moving electrons.

How Do Our Bodies Conduct Electricity?

Our bodies already have a range of different electrical charges in them (think nerve and brain cells), which is why exposure to strong electrical currents can be life-threatening. Our skin is able to protect the body from electricity but certain voltages may be too strong for our skin to endure. Wet skin conducts electricity more easily than dry skin, which is why we shouldn’t swim during lightning storms as electricity can more easily pass through our skin in water.

How Does Electricity Travel Through A Wire?

Electricity can travel through a wire due to the charges inside of the wire. These charges are then acted on by an electric field and can move through the wire via an electric current.

As you go through the experiments and questions with kids, make sure they understand the importance of safety. The more kids know about electricity, the less likely they are to get into a situation where they or others could be burned or shocked. Having a basic understanding of electricity can help keep them stay safe, while also fostering an interest in science and the world around them.