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Learn About Electricity For Kids

Updated on November 15, 2017
Ben Reed profile image

Ben worked in the UK utility Industry for 30 years. During this time he held many varied posts within the Metering Side of the business.

Electricity For Kids

This article aims to provide information for the young reader on the subject of electricity. This article is not technical (deliberately), but it is written in a way that I believe will engage and stimulate young children's interest in this fascinating subject.

The article concentrates on familiarizing the young child with the practicable aspects of electricity, its use, how it is generated and provided to us as well as a brief but informative introduction into electric circuits. Hopefully this will take away some of the mystique that surrounds a young child about the subject of electricity and lead them into wanting to know and understand more about the subject as they grow older.

Firstly - A Safety Warning

Electricity greatly enhances our lives. Whilst it is safe for us to use when handled properly, it can be very dangerous if not properly handled.

Things to look out for before handling anything connected to electricity:

  • Never play with wall sockets
  • Never use an appliance that has a broken plug
  • Never use an appliance that a damaged flex or cable.
  • Keep electric appliances away from water.
  • Never play near power lines or pylons.

NEVER PLAY WITH ELECTRICITY - IT CAN KILL.

Danger Electricity Sign
Danger Electricity Sign

What Is Electricity?

Put simply: Electricity is a kind of energy. You cannot see electricity, but you can see its effects through what it does.

What is this mysterious force called electricity? The fact is that people have only really started to understand and use it over the last couple of hundred years.

But it has been a force of nature for millions of years, taking the form of lightning. Lightning is the result of the discharge of an electric charge in a cloud. The energy of the discharge is so great that it generates an intense trail of light, heat and the sound of thunder. It was the observation of these lightning strikes that led to people to investigate further and to the search for understanding of what electricity was. However, as any of us can see, a lightning strike is fleeting, the electrical discharge is over in a flash. People couldn’t make practical use of this incredible force until they had the ability to collect, store and make a sustained flow of electric charge. This became a practical reality with the invention of the battery.

You will see electricity working in everyday things around you. It heats your home. It turns on the light. It makes your toast and washes your clothes. In fact if you look around you, you will be hard pressed not to see an object that is not powered by electricity.

Electric Toaster
Electric Toaster

The Light Bulb

Arguably, the most used useful impact of electricity on our everyday lives is the electric light bulb, and this is something we very much take for granted today. But can you imagine how it must have been for people born before it was invented? Back then, people's lives were governed by the hours of daylight. They would wake at dawn and retire to bed once it became dark. All they had for illumination were candles - or if they were lucky - oil and gas lamps.

Today, we use electric lighting to help us see inside the house and outside when it's dark. The ability to light up our lives has enabled us to extend our waking day.

We can freely do almost anything we want without being huddled around a candle or having to carry a lamp with us.

Electric Light Bulb
Electric Light Bulb

How Is Electricity Made?

Electricity is made in power stations. These power stations use a number of things to make electric power. The early power stations predominately used coal, which they burnt to generate electricity. Back then, coal was plentiful and concerns about the effect of burning huge quantities of coal on our environment and nature were not yet fully considered. In recent years, we tended to use gas or nuclear power to make electricity. Today, we have a variety of methods of generating electricity including wind turbines and moving water.

Electricity being generated in a power station
Electricity being generated in a power station

How Electricity Is Made - Video for Kids - A Great Explanation

How Is Electricity Moved From The Power Station To Our Homes?

Electricity is moved around through the use of cables. These are very thick wires that are often carried on tall structures called pylons. These pylons often cover many miles are usually used to move electricity across open countryside. Once the cables get near built up area's, the cables are normally buried in the ground and attached to much thinner cables that carry the electricity into our homes.

Electric Pylons
Electric Pylons

Is Electricity Free To Use?

Unfortunately, electricity is not provided for free.

It costs money to generate electricity and to move it into our homes and there is a whole industry involved in providing us with our electric power. These electricity companies (often referred to as Electricity Suppliers or Utility Companies), have to find a way to bill us (their customers) for the electricity we have used. These companies do this through installing an electricity meter in peoples homes. This electric meter measures and records the amount of electricity that we have used.

This meter is read reguarly and the amount of electric used is recorded and the electric company use this to generate and send us a bill.

Electricity Meters
Electricity Meters

How Does An Electricity Meter Work?

There are two main types of electricity meters in use in our homes. The meter used most frequently in the past is called a Electromechanical Induction Meter. Don't be put off by the complicated sounding name given to these. Put simply, these types of meter have a metal disc spinning in them which is made to spin faster or slower depending on how much electricity is being drawn through the meter. The more appliances we have switched on in the home, the faster the disc will spin. By counting the number of times the disc spins round, the meter can calculate the amount of energy we have used.

The second type of meter, and one which is becoming more popular in our homes today are the Smart Meters. The main difference with this electric meter is that it has the ability to send meter readings automatically to the electric company, and it has a digital display unit from which you can see how much electricity you are using in real-time. This means that you can more easily monitor how much electric is in use and gives us the ability to better manage how much the electric bill is going to be. We can do this by switching things off when they are not being used.

Do All Appliances Use The Same Amount Of Electricity?

The answer is no they don't.

Some machines use very much more than others.

Generally, those electric appliances that make heat, use the most and therefore cost us more to use. Examples of these are:

  • Electric Fires
  • Cookers
  • Kettles
  • Microwave ovens

Examples of electric appliances that use less electricity are:

  • Light bulb
  • Radio
  • CD player
  • Electric toothbrush

How Is A Machine Turned On and Off?

People who manufacture electric appliances and machines have made it very easy for us to turn them on or off. They do this by providing an On / Off Switch.

Electric Circuit: All appliances need an electric circuit to work. Put simply, this means that electricity need to be able flow around a pathway called a circuit, to make things work. Without a complete, uninterrupted circuit, the electric power is unable to complete its journey from the power source e.g. battery, or electric supply, to the object being used e.g. light bulb.

Inside a switch there are two strips of metal. When you press a switch ON, the strips of metal touch and they complete a circuit. Electricity needs a complete circuit to flow through. When you press a switch OFF, the metal strips are unable to touch, this creates a gap in the circuit and the electricity stops flowing.

Safety Warning: NEVER play with a broken switch or electric socket

The video below offers a great explanation of what an electric circuit is how it works.

On Off Switch
On Off Switch

Conductors and Insulators

You may have heard of these, but what are they?

A conductor is a material that allow the electrical charge to move freely through it. An insulator is made from a material that does not allow the electrical charge to move through it.

You may already know that electricity flows easily through some substances, especially water and metals. These are called conductors.

Substances such as plastic, glass, ceramic and wood don't allow electricity to flow easily and these are called insulators. This is why electric wires are covered with a plastic coating to stop the electricity leaking out.

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