How to teach young children about the simple electrical circuit

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How to teach young children about the simple electrical circuit
Young children can understand the basic idea behind switching on an electric light. (Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images)

The National Curriculum introduces the concept of the electrical circuit in key stage 1. The subject is revisited at later stages in the children's school careers, but it makes it easier for the children to progress if they already have a solid understanding of the basic principles behind electricity. There are a number of creative ways to introduce very young children to the vocabulary and ideas of a simple electrical circuit.

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A good way to introduce the subject is with a brainstorm in which children shout out the words they associate with electricity. You might have to use questions to prompt them, such as: "What do we use to turn the light on?" and "what do we need to make a torch work?" You can use flashcards to identify any words that they did not discover for themselves.


Songs are good tools for teaching a new vocabulary because easy to pick up and remember, and children enjoy singing them. BP's educational resources site contains some suggested electrical song lyrics suitable for singing with well-known, catchy tunes. If you don't like these, you could try making up your own.


Once children have a basic electrical vocabulary, use role-play to demonstrate the fact that an electrical current flows. Appoint individual children to represent a power source (a bucket of balls), a light bulb, a switch and wires. Children pass the balls to each other to symbolise the flow of electricity, and pretend to switch the light on and off, and occasionally break the circuit.

Circuits game

Draw diagrams of a variety of simple circuits, of which some will not work, for example because they are missing a battery or have not connected the wires in a circuit. Ask the children to identify which circuits will function effectively and which won't. Children can then experiment with drawing their own circuits.

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