Simple Electronics Projects: Light Up Animals

Looking for fun, educational, and creative simple electronics projects for your family to enjoy? 

We have just the ticket in this art project turned ornament that also teaches a bit about circuits. In this project, you will make a simple circuit that has a creative switch. When the clothespin is open the circuit is open, and the LED is off. When the clothespin is closed the circuit is also closed, and the LED is on. 

Often when we are learning something new it is difficult to visualize the inner workings of things we take for granted. Switches is one thing that comes to mind.

Most people don't know how a switch actually works. 

That is, they don't know how it actively opens or closes a circuit. In our simple electronics projects, we try to remedy that. In this case, the switch is visibly open or closed.

You can get a lot of the ingredients for this project from your local dollar store. However, you would be hard-pressed to find the right type of battery, LED, and copper tape there. Fear not! You can find those items online or at your local hardware store!

Project ingredients:
CR2032 Battery
Copper tape
Conductive paint (DIY Conductive Paint Recipe)
Art supplies

Simple electronics projects - Making an LED animal with a simple switch.

  1. Draw a dot on your clothespin where the LED is going to be. From now on, this is the top of your simple circuit animal.
  2. Put copper tape on the bottom "jaw". It will cover the area of the clothespin that touches when it is closed around the edge and to the metal spring.
  3. Put another piece of copper tape on the top of your animal from the metal spring to just before the tip of the LED.
  4. Bend your LED around the "nose" of your clothespin. The direction of the LED is very important. The short leg of the LED should go into the jaw area, while the long leg of the LED rests on top.
  5. Using conductive paint connect the metal spring with the copper tape on both sides. This is important to ensure the "wires" of the circuit are connected. If they aren't connected you will have an open circuit, even when the switch is closed.
  6. Place the battery, positive side up, on the top of the clothespin. The bottom should be in contact with the copper tape.
  7. Holding the LED in place, close the clothespin with the short leg in the "jaw" and put the long leg on top of the battery.
  8. Check to see if the LED lights up.
  9. If the LED lights up, use hot glue on the edges to glue the battery in place. DO NOT put hot glue between the battery and the clothespin. This will prevent the copper tape from touching the bottom of the battery and will create an open circuit. The battery will be wider than the clothespin, so glue on the underside where the clothespin meets the battery. Then add a small amount of glue under the LED itself to hold it in place and tape the top long leg onto the batter with copper tape.

If the LED doesn't light up try the following:

  • Reverse the LED. LEDs are like slides or one-way streets, and electrons are great rule followers. If you have the slide going the wrong way all of the electrons will be at the bottom of the slide and refuse to climb up, which means no light.
  • Check the LED on the battery directly. Sometimes you get a dud. This happens in science, and when it happens you have to troubleshoot. If simply flipping the LED does not cause it to light up there could be a few reasons. It could be the circuit, the LED, or the battery. Put the LED directly on the battery (make sure you are only using a small 3V battery as recommended above). If it does not light up try another LED. If both don't light up, and you also flipped the direction, try a new battery.
  • If the LED and the battery are working check your connections. Key connections to check are the connection between the copper tape and the metal spring, and the short leg of the LED and the copper tape. You can do this by adding more conductive paint to the connection of the copper tape and metal spring and making sure that the short leg of the LED is in contact with the copper tape in the "jaw" when the clothespin is closed.

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Learning about simple electronics projects

What are common circuit components?
The battery - The battery is made up of three components, a cathode (the positive side), an anode (the negative side), and an electrolyte (a chemical solution). The reaction of the chemical solution with the anode and the cathode cause electrons to build up at the anode (the negative side of the battery). Like charges don't like to be near each other, so when they have the chance to flee each other into the wires of a circuit they do so. In this way, the battery is the energetic driver of electrons in the circuit.

The wires - In most of our simple electronics projects the wires are actually copper tape. All metals are conductors that act as a highway for electrons to move through. As you lay down the copper tape, you are laying down the roadways that electrons can travel on. Where you choose to connect those pathways to can ultimately create a simple (or complex) circuit.

The LED - We use LEDs in all of our simple electronics projects. They are cheap and easy to source, and easy to put into a circuit. The best part is you can find rainbow LEDs that change color, or LEDs with extra legs that allow you to change the colors of the LED. 

A resistor - We don't actually use a resistor in many of our simple electronics projects. This is because we use small batteries and copper tape. When we connect two pieces of copper tape together there are only a few points of contact. This makes the electrons wait in a line to get through that traffic jam. In this way, the joints of the tape act just like a regular resistor in a circuit would.

What do regular switches look like?
Light switches are likely among the most commonly seen switches in our lives, but switches are everywhere. From turning on your microwave to choosing if your holiday lights are on, off, or flashing, switches play a pivotal role in how we harness the power of electricity.

The insides of switches can vary dramatically. For example, many rocker types of switches use a small metal ball that moves its position based on the switch position. That metal ball can either close a circuit by connecting two points or open the circuit by moving out of the way. Other switches are spring operated, where the user presses down on a switch which presses a metal plate across to, previously unconnected, wires in the circuit. 

Our switch uses our fingers to hold it open, although you can easily create a small candy cane or another treat for your animal to munch on that is made of paper. The paper, which is an insulator (that means it makes it really hard for electrons to move inside of it), prevents the flow of electrons and holds open a gap in the circuit, preventing the LED from lighting up.

Why should I engage in simple electronics projects with my kids?
Learning a wide range of science when kids are young helps them make deeper connections as they go through school. Circuits is a great way to expose kids to fun science that requires attention to detail, problem-solving, and persistence. Simple electronics projects don't even require the use of difficult tools like soldering, but gives kids hands-on experience with circuit components and how to put those pieces together to create something of interest that plays music, lights up, or moves around.

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