It’s Shocking

Goal: Teach children about static electricity and the charges associated with them. Also explain the potential danger that static electricity may cause around fuel sources.
Ages: Appropriate for all ages with adult supervision.

Must be supervised.

Material List:

2 elastic balloons
Empty soda can

What To Do:

Child with glasses and static electric hair1. Blow up two large balloons and tie them off. Empty one soda can and keep it close to the experiment area and the balloons.

2. Ask a volunteer to take one of the blown-up balloons and rub it firmly against his or her head in small circular motions.

3. Explain that the friction caused the balloon to become negatively charged, then explain how the empty soda can has a positive charge and that negative and positive are opposites. With a dry-erase marker, label the can and balloons with the appropriate positive (+) or negative (-) charges.

4. Ask what they think happens when a negative meets a positive. Then show them how the positively charged soda can is attracted to the negatively charged balloon and drag the balloon slowly across a table to make it appear like the can is following the balloon. Explain that opposite charges are attracted to each other.

5. Give the other balloon to another volunteer and ask him or her to place their newly charged balloon next to the existing balloon. The balloons create opposite charges and stick together. Remember to label each balloon according to its current charge.

6. Have each volunteer rub the balloon on their own head and explain how each balloon is creating the same charge, and then ask the group what’s going to happen to the balloons with like charges.

7. When they try to make their balloons touch, note how the balloons now have the same negative (-) charge labeled on them and that the balloons are repelled from each other.

Bringing It All Together:

Highlight the importance of the charges on each item by labeling it with a dry-erase marker and changing them accordingly to fit each stage of the experiment. By the end of the experiment, the kids should understand that opposite charges are attracted to each other while like charges repel.

Explain that when we get shocked or zapped, that’s the discharge of static electricity. Teach them that they can get rid of a static charge by touching or stepping on a metal object to ground themselves. This will get rid of the built-up electrons so they will not be able to shock someone if they touch them.

Under the right conditions, static electricity can be potentially dangerous around fuels. Even the tiniest static spark may cause trouble, which is why it’s important that children should never play around any fuel source.