This is even better than a Chemistry Set! Well, it’s at least as good (colored LED lights, wires, and play-dough – how cool!). It probably suits a wider age range of kids for the combination of safety and depth of understanding than a chemistry set does too. I think kids as young as kindergartners would be able to “get” some of it, but it’s not so baby-ish that it wouldn’t interest a middle-schooler.
I wrote about Squishy Circuits earlier in the year, intending to gather all the materials and do the activities with my kids over the summer. But as Robert Burns wrote, “The best-laid schemes o' mice an 'men Gang aft agley.”
The project requires two different types of home-made play-dough. The only slightly odd kitchen ingredients are distilled water and cream of tartar (you can substitute lemon juice) for the conductive dough and 1 tsp. of alum (optional) for the insulating dough (it’s a preservative used in home pickling). I found both the alum and the cream of tartar in the rack of small McCormick containers in a large supermarket.
What stumped me was the trip to Radio Shack for the hardware (LED lightbulbs, wires, etc). Radio Shack seems like the kind of store that would have inventory problems, and a partially successful trip would beget more errand running. I suppose I could have ordered through their website easily enough, but I found some of the hardware listed on the Squishy Circuits website pretty unfamiliar as I didn't play around with circuit boards like my baby-boomer brothers did.
Well, I’m thankful that the creators of the Squishy Circuits website have come to the rescue. The current website has more detailed materials descriptions, links to sources, and even a kit that they’ll ship to you for a reasonable price (click here and scroll down to the Squishy Circuits toolbox to click on links to suppliers). The Squishy Circuits Store has single components too. Hurrah! I’ve ordered the kit and know I’ll have the right stuff.
P.S. I still need to do some homework so I can point you to some good explanations of the properties of circuits you can teach your kids with this activity.