The holidays are coming and it’s the perfect time of year to incorporate a little science into our holiday fun! What? You don’t think those two things go together? Well let me show you how you can inspire your older child to embrace the season with a STEAM activity I’m calling Circuit-Tree! This activity was inspired by our amazingly fun Circuit Bug activity.
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First off, I need to pause for a moment and bask in the perfectness of the name of this project. You see what I did there, right?
OK, enough lovin’ of the name, let’s jump into how you can create your own awesomeness known as the Circuit-Tree!
STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math and this project is an excellent example of a STEAM project that incorporates all the elements. I recommend this project for children 8 years old and up. Please ensure appropriate safety precautions are taken and that adult supervision is used at all times.
Before you do anything else you need to test your LED lights to make sure they work (and your battery for that matter). LED lights have one leg shorter than the other. The shorter leg is negative pin. Slide your round battery between the pins and hold the pins against the battery with your fingers. If the light doesn’t come on, turn the battery around and try again.
Once you have all your LEDs working it is time to prepare your wires. Cut them to length, I went with twice the length of my clothespin as a guide. You will need two wires for each LED light. Now strip the ends of your wires. I went with a little less than an inch. I didn’t worry too much about being exact, the main idea is to not go too long as this could cause interruptions in your circuits.
This next step can get very confusing very quickly, so it’s important to work systematically. Start by wrapping a wire around the short (positive pin) of an LED. Then repeat on another LED doing only positive pin. I found it easiest to do my LED’s in batches of two. So at this point I twisted the loose ends of those wires together. Now, just above the point where I stripped the wires I added a piece of electrical tape. That way throughout my build I always knew that the wires with electrical tape were my positives.
Now repeat the same wrapping process on those two LEDs but on the negative pins. Except after twisting together the loose ends do not add electrical tape. Make sense?
Now repeat on your next two LEDs.
Once you have your LED’s wired I recommend testing them by placing your battery between your wire ends. Interruptions in your circuits are easy to do and you want to catch them early. If it doesn’t work, turn your battery around.
Next step, is to start building the tree. Start by taking one set of two LEDs and slide one LED on each leg of the clothespin. Make sure the positive pins are on the outside, negative (shorter pins on the inside), now carefully wrap electrical tape around the pins to hold the LED in place on the clothespin. Do this on both sides. Then test your LEDs. You want to make sure the pins are not touching any metal on the clothespin as this will interrupt your circuits.
To add more lights I simply placed the next set of LEDs on the outside of the electrical tape. Then taped those into place. Test your LEDs!
Once all your LEDs are attached to the clothespin and you have confirmed they are working you want to take your positive leads and wrap them all around one end of the clothespin bottom. Trim the wires and re-strip if necessary. Then repeat on the other side with the negative wires. Next, slide the battery in between so it is pinched into place with the wired held against the battery. This is really hard to do and takes some finesse. Adult help will likely be needed.
Now all your lights should be on! If you have lots of wires, you can use a little electrical tape to tuck them out of the way.
This final stage is about having a bit of fun. Using pipecleaners wrap them around the clothespin to create your tree effect. I added a sparkly pipecleaner as garland on top of the green base. You may notice your lights flickering on and off as you build, just adjust if this happens, there is metal in the middle of pipecleaners which can cause a circuit interruption.
Once your Circuit-tree is built you probably noticed it is not the most stable thing in the world and it looks funny with the battery and such sticking out the bottom. That is easily solved by building a Lego base to stand your tree up in! I used red 2×3 bricks and built the square base. It holds the tree perfectly and adds to the festive look.
I hope you enjoyed building your very own Circuit-Tree!
If you enjoyed this Circuit-Tree project or just want more details on building circuits like this, check out my Circuit Bug activity and build your own bugs with glowing eyes!
For more Christmas activities check out these other articles from STEAM Powered Family.