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Home / Play / Teach kids about static electricity

Let’s learn

Here’s a fun way to teach your kids about static electricity. Yes, it involves rubbing a balloon on your head, but this tutorial also features a negatively charged jellyfish (plastic bag) and a neutrally-charged sheep (aluminium can). It’s super simple to do at home and the characters will help kids remember the science. We’re (ahem) positive you’ll love it.

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You will need:

  • A plastic bag
  • An aluminium can (empty)
  • A balloon
  • Tape/ marker pens/ scissors
  • A head

Gather your equipment

Your lab equipment

Your lab equipment

Careful with the empty can. You can protect little fingers from sharp can lids by covering the opening with some tape.

Want the science-y intro? Here it is…

All things are made of atoms. Inside each atom you’ll find protons (positively charged, don’t move around), neutrons (neutral, don’t move around), and electrons (negatively charged, can move around between objects). Different materials tend to be negatively, positively or neutrally charged by default, depending on their composition.

Let’s have some fun investigating…

Step 1: Make your Neutral Sheep

Step 1: Make your Neutral Sheep

Aluminium cans have a neutral charge. That means they have an equal number of protons (positively charged) and electrons (negatively charged).
Decorate your aluminium can with a little face and positive/negative eyes to show that he has a neutral charge. You can wrap your can with paper like we did, or just draw right onto the surface. Baaah.

2. Make your Negative Jellyfish

2. Make your Negative Jellyfish

Plastic bags are often negatively charged, because they easily pick up electrons from being handled. To help kids remember they are negative, cut your bag to look like a moody jellyfish and draw a face with minus-sign eyes.
Don’t be fooled by the smiley face on our jellyfish. She just enjoys being negative.

Step 3: Charge up your Bossy Balloon

Step 3: Charge up your Bossy Balloon

Balloons are neutrally charged, but when you rub them on your head they gain electrons and become negatively charged.
So you can mark your balloon with a minus sign. Then, give it a good rub on your head (or clothing).

Step 4: Make sure Jellyfish is as negative as possible!

Step 4: Make sure Jellyfish is as negative as possible!

Although the plastic has probably naturally gained some electrons from being handled, if you give it a good head-rub it will pick up extra electrons. Now it’s really, really negative. Bag humbug!

Step 5: Take Neutral Sheep for a walk

Step 5: Take Neutral Sheep for a walk

Put charged-up Bossy Balloon near Neutral Sheep and pull it away slowly. The sheep will follow the balloon faithfully.
Aluminium is neutrally charged, the balloon is negatively charged. This imbalance makes them attract. How about making more balloons/sheep and challenging your little shepherds to coax them into a pen?

Step 6: Chase Negative Jellyfish away

Step 6: Chase Negative Jellyfish away

Get your little helper to charge both balloon and jellyfish with more rubbing. Then move Bossy around underneath Negative Jellyfish—she should swim away. (Both are negatively charged, and objects with the same charge repel each other.) Ta da!

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Activities for kids aged 5-8

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