Electricity: Not Just a Flick of the Switch


As the days get shorter and the weather gets colder, we spend more time with our kids inside. We enjoy watching our favorite TV shows, baking cookies and cakes, or even decorating the house with Christmas lights. As the holidays approach, we plug things in, press a button, flip a switch, and voila!, the holiday spirit fills our homes with sweet smells and twinkling lights.

Many of us take electricity for granted. We don't normally think about how electricity is generated and how it gets to our homes. But stories like William Kamkwamba’s, a boy from Malawi who built a windmill from scratch for his village, remind us that electricity is a vital resource for our modern world.

Fall is a perfect time to teach kids about electricity and how valuable it is to our modern lives. More importantly, teaching them the value of electricity will keep them engaged in their science and math classes throughout the school year.

How to Teach your Kids the Value of Electricity

Introductory Experiment: Water Doing Work


  • 4 Styrofoam plates
  • Pencil
  • Plastic straw
  • 9 small plastic cups
  • Masking tape (1½ inch wide)
  • String
  • Hose or water container


Put two plates back-to-back and tape them together. Find the center of the plate-wheel by balancing it on the eraser end of a pencil. Once you've found the center, punch a hole through the two plates with the pencil tip. Repeat this step with the other two plates, and make another plate-wheel.

Tear off a strip of masking tape 25 inches long. Stick the cups to the tape in a line. Wrap the strip of cups around one of the wheels, adjusting cups as necessary, and fasten. Use a short piece of tape to secure each cup.

Now, tape the two sets of plates together. Tape one end of the string onto the empty plate and wind up. You’ll want enough string to pull up an object from the floor. Slide the straw through the hole of your waterwheel—this is your axle!

Hose spraying a waterwheel To use your waterwheel, thread some more string through the straw. Tie the ends to a support in an area that can get wet.

Place a weight on the ground below the water-wheel and attach the string. Pour water over the waterwheel. You may have to adjust the angle of the water or the amount of weight to get the wheel to turn.

Watch the wheel turn, winding up the string and lifting the weight.

Additional pictures and instructions provided on's How-To Wiki here.

For Older Kids: Generate Electricity

If you and your kids are a bit more ambitious, you can find more in-depth information on building renewable energy projects at the following links. Full construction instructions as well as background material for parents and teachers are included.

Kids holding a homemade windmill

Photo provided by Toronto Renewable Energy Cooperative

We would like to thank the Toronto Renewable Energy Cooperative (TREC) for providing SolSolution with helpful feedback and content to include in this post. TREC has a vision of inspired citizens working together, pooling their resources, to realize a sustainable, democratic, and accountable energy economy. SolSolution's mission is to simultaneously generate clean, renewable electricity, and increase the quality of education in underprivileged schools.

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