Hair-Raising Preschool Science!
Zap! Winter can be a shocking time as we shuffle through our dry, heated homes in our stocking feet or slippers, across the carpeted floor. Or maybe you notice more often as you slide out of the car in your puffy down coat, and then touch the door…zap! Why do we get these little shocks? Why does your hair stand up when you pull a sweater over your head?
These might be questions your young child has this time of year. Turns out, the science behind these little zaps can actually be fun and less shocking, if you have the right supplies. Here is an easy science investigation to try in your classroom or at home.
Static Electricity Investigation!
A great time to try this investigation is just after the holidays, or after a birthday party, as you’ll have most of the materials on hand.
• a few of the following: tissue paper, newspaper, packing peanuts or bits of Styrofoam,
cellophane, wrapping paper, etc.
• mittens, clean socks, or a fuzzy blanket
• a child!
• Static Electricity Investigation Observations Printable
Before you start, inflate a few balloons. Cut up some small pieces of tissue paper, foam, cellophane, etc. Spread these items out on the table or floor.
Show the children how to rub the balloon on their head. What happens to their hair? Ask if they think the balloon can do “science magic” with anything else.
Have the children rub the balloon on their head again and then hold it above the tissue, foam, or cellophane you’ve spread out in front of them. Be sure to remind them to hold the balloon above the items, not to touch the items directly.
What happens as the balloon moves closer? Ask: “Do you see the tissue paper jump and stick to the balloon?” Pose this challenge: “Can you make the tissue paper “dance”?”
Now try a second activity. Have the kids put some mittens or clean socks on their hands and rub them together. Then have them hold their hands above the tissue paper, etc. What happens? You can also try rubbing together a fuzzy blanket or other soft fabric like felt or fleece.
Pose this question and have the kids explore: “Can you use the mittens or blanket the same way you used the balloon to make your hair stand up?”
What other fun and interesting ways can you use static electricity to make science magic?
Once you’ve given the kids a few more minutes to explore, have them draw what they saw happen during the investigation on the “Static Electricity Investigation Observations” printable.
What is the Science?
Although the science behind static electricity is not preschool-age appropriate, you might be interested in knowing what is going on here.
Static electricity happens when an electric charge builds up on something. In other words, some electrons from the atoms that make up the materials between the static shock have jumped from one atom to another. When there is an imbalance of electrons, the atom becomes either positively or negatively charged. Eventually, that build-up of charge has to go somewhere, and that is the zap you feel when you touch the doorknob after walking across the carpet in your socks.
We see this daily in occurrences such as static cling, or when our hair stands up like in the balloon investigation. When you rub two fuzzy mittens together, it builds up the static charge. Touch something else and the charge is released, and you may feel a zap or even see a little spark!
Sarah Benton Feitlinger is a science educator with over a decade of experience teaching in museums, nature centers and the science classroom. She now shares her passion for teaching science on her blog, (Share it! Science). www.shareitscience.com She loves exploring the outdoors with her family in rural New England.