The effects of static electricity are visually stunning and a very common life experience so I knew that I wanted to use it as a theme for Science Storytime. I wasn’t able to find a book for preschoolers that went along with the theme, so we started with a simple discussion of static electricity. Many children identified with getting shocked after sliding at the playground, or having their hair stick up when taking off a hat. I talked a little about how things can get charged in a very simple way, using my hands to represent a charge (closed fist) and a noncharge (open palm) and how they fit together. Then I demonstrated with a balloon and some tissue paper. In addition to watching the tissue paper stick to the upside down balloon, I had also made a ghost out of tissue paper, and used the static charge to make the ghost dance around and haunt the room without even touching the balloon.
Next, I talked about when two charges try to touch each other, punching my fists together to show that they didn’t fit. I had a charged piece of plastic, and when I tried to put it near my charged balloon instead of sticking together, the balloon’s charge made the plastic move in the opposite direction. Apparently you can even get rings of plastic to levitate! I couldn’t perfect my technique in time, so I had to settle for simply watching the plastic be repulsed by the balloon, which was still pretty impressive. The kids seemed to appreciate my silly “get away from me!” voiceovers.
After I had demonstrated static electricity to the group, I let them all sit at the table with their own balloons, pieces of cloth, and various things that could stick. I think I should have been more explicit, or perhaps simply repeated it more often, about the fact that I was using the cloth to charge up my balloon, because several of the children seemed to have missed that fact and were confused about how to charge their balloons. The WonderWorks program had mentioned cutting feathers so that the bits would jump onto the balloon, and the parents were quite impressed, but none of the children seemed to be inspired by that particular idea. There was lots of balloons sticking to hair, and to the feathers, yarn, and tissue paper I had put out. I had set out tissue paper butterflies stapled to cardboard so that the children could use their charged balloons to make the butterflies’ wings flap. I also put out markers so that they decorate their butterfly, since I generally have one or two kids who want a physical product to take home with them. In the nature of programs taking an unexpected turn, the children were all interested in decorating their balloons with the markers, which probably shouldn’t have surprised me, including some who made faces and then used static electricity to stick yarn on as hair.