These Playdough Christmas Tree Circuits are the perfect way to introduce children to the concept of simple circuits in a fun and playful way!
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:
- Our printable Christmas Tree Circuits playdough mats
- Battery Holder Storage Case with Wires
- 2 AA batteries
- LED lights
- Conductive Playdough
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
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
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!