Children are endlessly curious about the world around them. If you’re a parent – or anyone who spends time with kids, for that matter – you’re bound to be asked about electricity sooner or later. Knowing how to explain electricity to a kid is an essential skill to have in your parenting tool box. It may even help your kids realize how brilliant you are! (At least until they become teenagers, of course.)
Use these tips to get started:
- Adapt the explanation to the child’s age. Keep it short and simple for preschoolers. For older kids, you can provide a more detailed, complex response like the one below.
- Explain to children that electricity can be dangerous. Remind them to stay away from exposed wires or downed power lines, and to avoid using electrical devices near water, including tubs, sinks, puddles or toilets.
- Use a hands-on approach by conducting the simple electricity experiments for kids, listed below.
What is Electricity?
If you don’t really understand how electricity works, you won’t know how to explain electricity to a kid! Here’s a simple way to sum it up (Edit as needed!):
Electricity is something that has always been around, but we didn’t really know how to harness its power until the 1800s. Electricity is considered “secondary energy” because other sources of potential energy like wood or gas are needed to produce it.
There are two basic forms of electricity: current electricity and static electricity.
- Current electricity (alternating current) is the energy that flows through wires in our homes and powers our lights, televisions, computers, and appliances. Batteries also supply direct current electricity. Electrical current flows continuously as long as it has an uninterrupted circuit to travel through. Light switches and circuit breakers work by interrupting the flow of electricity.
- Static electricity occurs naturally when certain objects rub together and create friction. Lightning is an example of static electricity created when ice and water particles in storm clouds collide, creating big electrical charges (bolts) that travel to the ground below or to nearby clouds. Another example is when you shuffle your feet across the carpet, then get a shock when you touch something or someone.
How Is Electricity Generated?
Everything in the universe – the sun, clouds, grass, dirt, toys, clothes, rocks, and even people – is composed of atoms, tiny particles that contain protons, neutrons, and electrons. The protons and neutrons are inside the atom’s nucleus (center) and the electrons orbit the nucleus. The electrons, which have a negative charge, don’t float away under normal circumstances. They stay in orbit because the protons in the nucleus have a positive charge, which keeps the electrons close. In this state, the atom is neutral (doesn’t have a charge) because the number of protons is equal to the number of electrons. When outside forces (friction or chemical reactions, for example) upset the balance, the atoms may lose or gain an electron. It’s the movement of these lost electrons that produces electricity.
Power plants use various fuels– gas, coal, steam, or wind, for example – to generate electricity. Basically, they use chemical reactions, mechanical force, or kinetic (movement) energy to alter atoms. For example, wind farms or water from a power dam causes huge wheels in turbines to rapidly spin, disturbing the electrons, producing electricity.
The generated current travels through wires into large transformers. The transformers increase voltage, allowing the power to travel far away. The current continues through high-voltage power lines that extend across the country. Before electricity comes to your home or business, it travels to a substation, which converts the voltage from high to low. From there, it goes through a system of smaller power lines and another transformer to lower the voltage even more. Finally, the electricity is sent to homes and businesses, where, with the push of a button or flip of a switch, it powers the devices of modern life!
Static Electricity Experiments for Kids
To help a child understand the properties of static electricity, rub a balloon on your hair or a wool blanket or sweater, and watch how it sticks to the wall for a few moments. Explain that this is an example of negatively and positively charged atoms reacting to each other.
To further illustrate this concept, try this simple static electricity experiment:
- Mix an equal part table salt and black pepper in a shallow dish.
- Have your child use a fine-tooth plastic comb to comb through his/her hair until static builds up.
- Keeping the comb in the same hand, have your child quickly hold the comb over the dish, without touching the salt and pepper mixture.
- Watch as the comb, which is now statically charged, attracts the pepper, lifting flakes from the dish. (This works best when humidity levels are low.)
How to Make a Circuit for Kids
Here’s how to build a simple circuit with your child to demonstrate how electricity flows:
- Assemble the following items: a light bulb, a battery (be sure to use the right voltage for the bulb,) two 6-inch sections of wire, electrical tape, and a knife.
- Use the knife to strip ½ inch of each end of both sections of wire.
- Tape one end of one wire to the shiny silver side of the bulb base and tape the other end of the same wire to the negative pole (-) of the battery.
- Tape one end of the second wire to the positive pole (+) of the battery. When your child touches the other end of the second wire to the bottom of the light bulb, the circuit is complete, and the bulb should light up.
Upgrading Electrical Service to Keep Your Family Safe
Outdated electrical fixtures, wiring, and other components may be putting your home – and your kids – at risk. We care about your family’s safety! If you have questions or concerns regarding your home’s electrical system, make an appointment with your local Mr. Electric online. Or, you can call us any time at (844) 866-1367. From installing childproof outlets to conducting comprehensive electrical inspections, we are ready to help!
Now that your kids think you are a genius, it may be easier to get them to help out around the house! Check out these motivating tips from Molly Maid!