Playdough Christmas Tree Circuits

These Playdough Christmas Tree Circuits are the perfect way to introduce children to the concept of simple circuits in a fun and playful way!

Christmas Tree Playdough Circuits

Did you know that playdough can conduct electricity?!?!  In this fun activity for our #HandsOnChristmas series, we are exploring the concept of simple circuits using playdough and Christmas trees!

The first activity in this post is best for ages 5 and up but I have also included a modified version that uses Insulating Dough (modeling clay) at the bottom that would be great for older elementary children.

You can use pretty much any playdough recipe that uses a good amount of salt or you can even use store-bough Play-Doh, although we found that the homemade recipe below works slightly better than the canned kind.

Here are the materials you will need for this activity:

How to Make Homemade Conductive Playdough

Adapted From: Squishy Circuits

  • 1 1/2 cups of flour
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/4 cup salt
  • 3 tablespoons cream of tartar (or 9 tablespoons lemon juice)
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • Green Food Coloring

Directions: Mix dry ingredients in a pan. Add the food coloring to the water first and then pour the water and oil in with the dry ingredients (if you try to add the food coloring straight to the mixture, it tends to look splotchy). Mix together and stir continuously as you cook over medium heat. The playdough is done when it forms a ball in the center of the pan (don’t be surprised if some still sticks on the bottom and sides, but the majority should congregate in the center). Remove the dough and set it on the counter for a few minutes to cool. Knead the dough until smooth, adding a little bit of flour if it sticks.

How to Make Playdough Christmas Tree Circuits

First things first, print out our Christmas Tree Circuits Playdough mats. I ran mine through our laminator but you could also use dry erase pocket sleeves or page protectors.

Next, roll out the playdough into a snake.

Follow the guide on the playdough mat to create the Christmas Tree.

Insert the batteries into the battery pack and then attach the red wire to the positive side of the tree and the black end to the negative side. Then add the LED light at the top (the long side is positive side and it will be facing the left).

The light is on and your little one just made a circuit!

It can be difficult to see the lights when the room is completely bright so turn the lights off, if necessary!

The Science Behind It: The movement of charged particles in one direction is known as an electric current. The battery pushes these charged particles through but they can move only when there is a complete loop from one end of the battery to the other. When the current is flowing through a closed loop (or circle) we have what is known as a “closed circuit” and the LED lights up!

Creating these simple circuits is a great STEM activity for kids! And once your child is ready to get a bit more complicated, you can proceed to the next variation!

Circuits using Insulating and Conducting Dough

Squishy Circuits has a recipe for insulating dough, but I found it much easier to just use modeling clay! As already mentioned, playdough is conductive and the modeling clay is considered insulating. By using the two together, you can create unique creations while still creating circuits.

For this adaptation, you will need the following in addition to the materials already listed above:

  • Modeling Clay (or homemade insulating dough)
  • Additional battery packs
  • Assorted colors of playdough
  • Cookie cutters
  • Optional: alligator clips
Use a cookie cutter to cut out a Christmas tree from playdough. Then create another from modeling clay, but squeeze the edges to make it slightly smaller.
Put the playdough tree on the bottom and then place the modeling clay tree on top. Add tiny playdough balls for ornaments…just make sure you place them close to the edge of the tree. Next, add the LED lights and poke the positive side in the bottom playdough and the negative end on the “ornament”. Finally, add the battery pack, poking the positive charge in the bottom playdough and the negative into the ornaments.
If you have alligator clips (or small wires), you can clip the positive and negative charges to each ornament, otherwise you will have to use an additional battery pack for each “ornament”. Because I didn’t want to make an extra trip to the store and I had plenty of battery packs and batteries on hand, we opted for the individual battery packs to make each circuits rather than a more complicated one.

That’s it! You and your child can continue creating circuits using playdough, LED lights, and battery packs. Experiment with various combinations of conductive and insulating dough.

The Science Behind It: Electricity moves through the conduction dough (playdough) because the salt and cream of tartar break into little ions when mixed with the other ingredients. These ions allow electricity to flow through it. On the other hand, flour, sugar, and distilled water do not break down into ions and therefore do not conduct electricity!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *