Kitchen Science for Kids: Homemade Play Dough Circuits

Some may think that online learning only occurs through the computer, but this form of education actually allows for plenty of hands-on exercises and real-world application of concepts.

Science is one of the subjects that lends itself especially well to experiments and interactive learning activities. We don’t usually think of our kitchen as an electrical engineering lab, but did you know that play dough made with salt is actually great at conducting electricity? And play dough made with sugar is resistant to electric currents. When you use them in combination and add in a battery pack and a few lights, you have the opportunity to create circuits. They are not the complex circuits used by professional electricians, but simplified, colorful, squishy circuits that even younger children can build and understand!

Watch the video below to see a demonstration of how play dough squishy circuits work:


Now that you’ve seen how fun this activity can be, it’s time to start making your play dough. You may have done this in your own childhood, but in case you never did, the recipe is below.

How to Make Conductive Play Dough

You’ll need: 1 cup water, 1½ cups flour, ¼ cup salt, 3 Tbsp. cream of tartar, 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil, food coloring of your choice.

  1. Mix water, 1 cup of flour, cream of tartar, vegetable oil, salt, and food coloring in a pot (medium-sized).
  2. Cook over medium heat and stir continuously (the mixture should begin to boil and start to get a chunky texture). Continue stirring until the play dough forms a ball in the center of the pot.
  3. Once the ball is completely formed, place it on a lightly floured surface. It is going to be HOT, so flatten it out and let it cool for a few minutes before you try handling it.
  4. Knead the remaining flour into the ball of play dough until it’s the consistency you want.
  5. Store the play dough in a plastic container or bag. Once removing it, knead it to get it back to the consistency you want.
How to Make Insulating Play Dough

You’ll need: 1½ cups of flour, ½ cup sugar, 3 Tbsp. vegetable oil, ½ cup distilled water (regular tap water will not give your dough as high a resistance).

  1. Mix 1 cup flour, sugar, and vegetable oil in a large bowl.
  2. Mix in about 1 Tbsp. of distilled water and stir. Repeat until most of the water is absorbed by the dough mixture.
  3. Knead the dough into a lump/ball.
  4. Continue adding water and kneading until the dough takes on a sticky texture.
  5. Knead the remaining ½ cup flour into the dough until it reaches the texture/consistency you want.
  6. Store the play dough in a plastic container or bag. Once removing it, knead it to get it back to the consistency you want.

Play dough made this way should last for several weeks, so you can get plenty of use out of it in that time.

This particular activity is simple and fun, and it does a great job of turning a more complex topic into an easily digestible, hands-on project. You can refer to the Thomas Lab at the University of St. Thomas’ how-to guide to see how to build all kinds of different circuits with your homemade play dough.

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