Science and Stories: Surprise! It’s Static Electricity!

By Awnali Mills

Ever touched a doorknob in winter and gotten a nasty shock?  Yep, that’s static electricity.  I hate static electricity.  It makes my skirt cling to my tights, makes my pants ride up my socks, makes my hair float around my head like I’ve been caught in a stiff breeze, and shocks my husband when I go to kiss him.  Evidently, I have an electric personality, because I can’t seem to get away from the stuff.  As much as I hate it personally, though, it makes for a good Science and Stories topic.  Our book theme was Surprises and the books I chose were Guess Again by Mac Barnett, Bark, George by Jules Feiffer and Oh! What a Surprise by Suzanne Bloom (which I didn’t end up reading because my voice gave out).

Guess AgainBark GeorgeOh What a Surprise

I am still recovering from my bout of bronchitis and pneumonia, so I wasn’t sure how storytime would go.  If I talk too much I start coughing, and until recently I hadn’t much voice at all, period.  So, I let the storytimers know right off the bat that I was going to do my best, but if my voice failed we would just head into our science stations.  Naturally, they were very gracious.  I have such a great group!  I’m also blaming my sickness for my not remembering to bring a camera into the program.  So, sorry.  No pics.

Far and away the most popular thing I did was what I had in my magic bag.  I had an Energy Stick by Steve Spangler.

Energy Stick

After really building up the suspense without actually telling the kids what it was, I showed the stick and asked for a volunteer.  Kids surged to the front!  And here I was worried they would be scared about weird electrical looking things!  So, the way this works is that you hold one end of the stick.  When you touch the other end, you complete the circuit and make the stick light up and buzz.  If you hold one end of the stick, and another person holds the other end of the stick and then you touch each other, the circuit is completed and the stick goes off.  You can keep adding more and more people to your circuit, and the stick is so sensitive that it will still go off.  One new-to-our-group young lady was chosen out of the volunteers, and she held the other end of the stick.  I asked her to touch my hand, and the stick went off. *And the Crowd Goes Wild!!!* Eventually I managed to get every kid into a circle and we completed the circuit.  I think they would have happily played with it for hours, but I moved them on to our books.

I was unsure about how the book Guess Again would be received.  It’s definitely a book about surprises, since everything it leads you to believe the answer is when it asks you to guess is turned on its head and changed.  (The shadow shape looks like a bunny, and the description sounds like a bunny, but it’s actually Grandpa Ned!) It’s always a toss-up whether or not kids will think that’s funny or whether they will disapprove of their expectations not being met.  I told them that I liked the book and I thought it was funny, but they would have to decide whether or not they liked it, and I would let them vote on it after the book was done.  The caregivers were great and really laughed for me, so the kids took their cue from the adults and laughed it up, too.  Then, I handed out Post-it notes, and the kids used them to make a graph on my white board indicating whether they liked it or not.  Overwhelmingly, they liked it.

Then we did a surprise version of If You’re Happy and You Know It in which the traditional ‘clap your hands’, ‘stomp your feet’, etc. were changed to silly things like ‘stick your finger in your ear’, ‘put your leg up in the air’, ‘wiggle your tush’, and ‘flap your arms like a chicken.’  I got lots of giggles with this.

My early literacy tip was that making animal sounds with your kids helps them to hear the syllables in words, which in turn makes it easier for them to learn to read later on.  This was a nice segue into Bark, George.  As always, Bark, George is storytime gold.  Every darn time George produces an unexpected sound, the kids fall out laughing.

Unfortunately, by the end of Bark, George, my throat was tight and I was starting to cough, so I ended the story segment and transitioned into the science.  I had five science stations.  Since four of them required balloons, I handed out balloons to the adults, one for each child, and did a great big warning about balloons being a choking hazard.  I asked that they not give any balloons to anyone under three, asked that no one put the balloons in their mouths, and asked that if any balloons popped that all pieces be picked up immediately.  Despite my warnings, I did take a balloon away from a tiny one who was mouthing it industriously while mom was chatting away to another adult.

Again, I do apologize for not taking pictures.

Exploration Station 1: Water Attraction Experiment

We have a tiny kitchenette with a sink attached to our meeting room.  I put a stool in front of the sink and turned the water on until it was just a tiny thin stream.  Kids had to take their balloon, rub it on their heads, and hold it near the water.  The static electricity pulls the stream of water towards the balloon.  This was probably the most popular of the balloon experiments.

Exploration Station 2: Remote Control Roller

Take an empty, clean, aluminum soda can and put it on its side.  Static up a balloon and hold it near the can.  You can get the can to roll around without ever touching it.

Exploration Station 3: Jumping Rice Crispies

Scatter Rice Crispies on trays.  Static up a balloon and see how many Rice Crispies you can get to jump onto the balloon without touching it.

Exploration Station 4: Cheerio Swings

Hang individual Cheerios from long loops of thread, taping the ends of the thread to the edge of a table with duct tape.  Static up a balloon and see how high you can get the Cheerios to swing without touching them.

Exploration Station 5: Makey Makey Piano

I used pears from my backyard tree to make the piano.  This was a little glitchy for me.  I think it might have been a combination of the pears being a little too large/dense for conducting electricity well, and the laptop computer misbehaving.  The experiments I did beforehand with a desktop computer worked just fine, and our laptop is a white-bearded tottering old grandfather, so I suspect that the problem was primarily with the laptop.  At any rate, the kids didn’t seem to care and were enchanted by being able to make sounds by touching the pears.

Truthfully, the kids were way more interested in playing with the balloons than doing the experiments.  Mostly, the caregivers kept them on track, and I circulated as much as possible trying to focus the kids on the science, but in the end there was a lot of very happy kids running in circles smacking balloons into the air. Oh, and there was also a group that got into my cart and were playing with the Energy Stick.  Huzzah for curiosity!

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One Response to Science and Stories: Surprise! It’s Static Electricity!

  1. Dana says:

    These are great ideas. I can’t wait to get the circuit stick!

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