Opening up the world of electricity – part 1: Static electricity

Before I begin: If you haven’t built atoms with your kid or introduced the topic in another way, I suggest doing that first. That way this info the way I have explained it makes more sense to the child. It is easier to grasp the concept of electrons if you have built a few with magic dough.

Our world revolves with electricity. Of course not our Earth, but our societies pretty much concentrate on things that need electricity. We need it to preserve our food, heat our homes, run quite a few cars, light the streets in the dark, cooking etc. not to mention emails, Skype-calls and social media. So introducing kids to this important topic is a good idea. We started with static electricity basically out of safety reasons. Static electricity is safe to experiment with.

For these experiments and actions, you need a balloon, a comb, some rice, piece of paper and something to keep that paper on the table. We used baby food bottles. Also you need time with your kid when you both are in a fairly good mood and not in a hurry. Sometimes the last requirement of a good time for experimentation is the hardest to find.

First thing we did was to play electricity-agents. Our task was to walk around our home and discover all the items that need electricity to work. We did this when we were at my family’s cabin, so the surrounding was far less cluttered with electricity needing things and also a bit more foreign, but we repeated it at home. Quite a few things in our homes need electricity. This electricity is not static, but this action works as a good intro into the topic. Also, if you happen to have power failure, that is an excellent opportunity to see all the things that do not work.

Second thing was to play with balloons. I blew a couple of balloons. I rubbed the first in my hair to raise it up. Then I rubbed the balloon against the couch and stuck it to the wall. Daughter tried these too and managed to get her hair in quite a mess. I explained that this is static electricity. I reminded her of the atoms we created earlier. I told her that when we rub the balloon it catches electrons out of the hair. The hair rises because they want the electrons back to become neutral again.

Image of risen hair due to static electricity and a balloon in the middle of the wall

Static electricity raises hairs and sticks balloons to walls

The next experiments need the comb. First we slightly changed the direction of the water. First I combed my hair quite thoroughly with the comb. I combed it enough to get the individual hairs to start avoiding each other, meaning they have the same electrical charge and therefore meaning the comb had static electricity. Then I took the comb close to the flowing water, but not quite touching. Daughter tried to replicate, but this was too difficult today. Maybe in a year or two.

Static electricity twists the flow of water

Comb + static electricity slightly alters the direction of the flow of water. The comb is just the agent through which the electrons can do their thing

Finally we made rice jump. First you need a piece of paper. This is not strictly necessary, but helps with the cleanup. Next you need something to keep it on the table. We used four baby food jars placed one in each corner. Then you need some rice. We used long grained rice because I believed they would show better in the pictures, but any grain will do. You can also use small pieces of tissue or paper. Then you need the comb and you need to brush it through your (or someone elses’) hair. Brushing the comb through hair allows electrons to transfer from the hair onto the comb. This then will attract the rice and make them jump. They will do this once you take the comb close to the rice but not touching them. There isn’t really any directions about how much you need to comb. Comb a bit and try if it works. If it does, good. You combed enough. If it doesn’t then you need to comb more. Do not touch the comb-part or the electrons will escape through your hand. Nature always seeks to stabilise electrical charges.

Static electricity makes rice jump

Making rice jump with static electricity. See directions for the experiment above.

If you try these experiments at home and your child asks questions, please let me know what types of questions they ask in the comment section so I can further develop these instructions. If you have questions about these experiments or instructions, leave me a comment and I will answer and also improve these instructions. Also, please remember like and share if you find this useful.

Copyright text and images: Satu Korhonen. You are free to try these experiments out, use them in your teaching. But instead of copying the text or images, link back to this page.

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