Electricity is a kind of energy that we can use to make things move, light up, heat up, or make sounds.
Static electricity is the build up of an electrical charge on the surface of an object. It's called "static" because the charges remain in one area for a while rather than moving or "flowing" to another area
A circuit is a closed loop that electrons can travel in. (Emphasize circuit sounds like circle. It must be closed to work.)
A source of electricity, such as a battery, provides electrical energy in the circuit.
Books & Resources:
Story: Oscar and the Bird by Geoff Waring (or Meet Einstein by Mariela Kleiner)
Common Core: What is a Circuit? by Ethan Weingarten (or Electricity by Rebecca Olien)
Snap Circuits Jr. Kits (the number of kits depends on the size of your program. I used two kits, with four children per kit.)
I started off by showing the children a balloon and a flashlight, and asking them what the two objects had in common. (They both have to do with electricity).
I then passed the balloon around and told them to rub it on their heads and see what happened. (Their hair stood on end.) I let the children try it out on me as well.
We then discussed the science behind the balloon experiment, which works because of static electricity. I briefly introduced them to the terms 'protons,' 'neutrons,' and 'electrons,' and how they make up atoms, which make up everything else. I stressed 'electrons' because of the phonetic similarity with 'electricity.
Then I turned on the flashlight and asked the children how it worked. They were able to tell me that it was battery powered and we connected this to a different type of electricity.
Next, we read Oscar and the Bird, a story about a cat who becomes curious about why his windshield wipers move. In the story, he meets a bird who helps him learn about electricity. (Oscar gives several examples of battery powered items, including a flashlight, so I used that prop again.)
Then I showed them What is a Circuit? by Ethan Weingarten. We didn't read the whole book, but we looked at pictures of circuits, and I emphasized the symbols used to draw pictures of circuits (a line for a wire, a circle with an x through it for a light bulb, etc.) because they also appear on the Snap Circuit pieces.
Finally, we opened the kits and got to work making functional circuits! We followed the first two projects suggested in the instruction booklet (making a light bulb turn on and making a fan spin) because they are the two most simple. Then I let the kids flip through the book and choose whatever they wanted. The "flying saucer" where the top part of the fan shoots up into the air, was quite the crowd-pleaser, stimulating lots of excited screams and laughter.
This was a really fun and engaging activity. It was interesting to see how the children went about creating their circuits. The girls--I let them choose their own groups--followed the directions and had no problems. The boys immediately started connecting pieces, willy nilly. Sometimes they got lucky, and other times we had to start over. It was a good exercise to remind them that creativity is encouraged, but there are also 'rules' to science that need to be observed to gain a desired result. It was also rewarding to see how some of the older children (aged 8) were willing to read the instructions and help the 5 year-olds figure out what to do next.
(Note: I would recommend no more than 4 children per kit. I was fortunate to have a smaller group for this one, which worked out nicely, since some of the children needed more help than others to figure out how to correctly complete the circuits. You can also solicit parent help, since the directions are straight forward and included in the kits.)