Shine On! Build an LED Lamp with Office Supplies!

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These circuits are exciting because they drive home the concept of how current flows through a circuit without the intricacies of a convoluted circuit.

The Shine On! LED Lamp experiment involves building a simple circuit using a few office supplies, a coin battery, and an LED to light up. It is a simple experiment that builds knowledge of how a circuit works, how power must flow through a circuit, and works fine motor skills.

Let’s get building!

How to make the Shine On! LED Lamp technology experiment

Supplies you will need

For this experiment, you will need the following:

Supplies needed for the Shine On! LED Lamp experiment

Before you start

Since we are playing with current and electricity, please watch your child while doing this experiment.

Instructions

Here is how to do this experiment with your child:

Step 1: Cut out 3 small cardboard rectangles and label

We are going to be making three bricks for our simple circuit: the battery, the on/off switch, and the light.

Label your bricks with a marker. I also marked the positive and next sides on the bricks to help when connecting them.

These bricks can be small since the binder clips will have to reach the components of each brick.

When you’re measuring out the bricks, the important part is measuring the width properly. This is because the binder clips have to reach their respective components on the bricks, and if the width is too long or short, they won’t connect properly.

Here are the widths for each brick:

  • Light brick: 2″ wide
  • On/off switch brick: 2 5/8″ wide
  • Battery brick: 1 7/8″ wide
Measuring out the three “bricks” for battery, light, and on/off switch

Step 2: Create the LED rectangle

If you have already labeled the positive ( +) and negative ( – ) sides of the brick for the LED, then it’s important to take a look at your LED legs before attaching them to the brick.

The longer leg, called the anode, is our positive ( + ) leg. The shorter leg, the cathode, is our negative ( – ) leg.

Bend the LED legs so they are perpendicular to the bulb and in opposite directions from one another. Use a binder clip to hold each leg of the LED on its respective side of the brick.

Light “brick”, cut out and labeled
Showing the LED legs on the correct side of the brick with power flow marked

Step 3: Create the power rectangle

Next up, we are going to create the battery brick. Again, if you’ve already labeled the brick with which side is positive and which is negative, then pay close attention to how you attach the battery.

First, place a binder clip on the positive side. Pop the binder arm down to reach toward the negative side of the brick (see image below).

Next, place the 3V coin battery on top of the extended positive binder clip arm. Be sure the positive side of the coin battery is facing down so it makes contact with the positive binder clip arm.

With the negative side of the coin battery facing up, place the second binder clip on the negative side of the battery brick.

Battery “brick”, cut and labeled, showing the binder clip on the positive side with one arm down
3V battery placed on top of the positive arm, then another binder clip around the pair for the negative current

Step 4: Create the switch

Last, we are going to create the on/off switch brick.

Simply place a binder clip on each side of the on/off switch brick, leaving one binder clip arm open. When we close that binder clip arm, it closes the circuit and allows the LED to light up, but since we’re still building our circuit, we’ll leave it open.

On/off switch brick with binder clip arm open so they arms do not make contact

Step 5: Create the conductors for the circuit

Did you know pipe cleaners are conductive? That’s because they are made of metal!

To really help drive home power flow and negative/positive charges in a circuit, I am using red (commonly used for positive power) and black (commonly used for negative power).

Take your two pipe cleaners and bend them in half, then cut along the bent portion.

Then, to expose the metal in the pipe cleaner, cut off as much of the pipe cleaner hair on the ends with a pair of scissors (see the image below).

Take your exposed pipe cleaner ends and bend them around the base of a paper clip. The paper clips will be used to connect to the binder clips and facilitate the flow of power!

Finally, cut some small strips of foil and wrap them around where the pipe cleaners and paper clips meet. This just helps ensure a tight connection.

Two pipe cleaners folded in half to cut
Cut pipe cleaners
Using scissors to cut as much of the pipe cleaner hair off to expose the metal
All pipe cleaners cleaned up! We technically only need three total
Wrapping the exposed end of one pipe cleaner around the paper clip end
Cutting out small strips of foil
Small strips of foil are wrapped around the pipe cleaner/paper clip meeting points

Step 6: Connect your circuit and power up!

All that’s left now is to connect the bricks with our conductive lines.

Since we took the time to color code our circuit, we need to make sure we connect the right color pipe cleaners to the correct side of each brick.

Using your red pipe cleaner, connect the paper clip to the binder clip. Then connect the other end of that pipe cleaner to the left side of the on/off switch.

Next, connect the black negative pipe cleaner to the negative side of the battery brick and to the negative side of the LED brick.

Finally, use a red pipe cleaner to connect the positive side of the LED to the open side of the on/off switch.

Once everything is connected, flip the on/off switch “on” (make the two binder clips touch one another) and your LED will power up!

Connected the bricks by placing a paper clip on the end of the binder clip
Positive on battery “brick” to the on/off switch
Negative on battery “brick” to negative on light “brick”
Completed circuit!
Move the arm from the on/off switch over to make contact with the other binder clip

The technology behind the Shine On! LED Lamp experiment

This experiment teaches:

  • How a basic circuit works
  • Fine motor skills
  • Listening for instructions

How it works

This experiment involves building a simple circuit using simple office supplies, pipe cleaners, a coin battery as the power source, and a small LED to light up.

There are a minimum of 2 “bricks” needed for this experiment to have a successful circuit (the power brick and the LED brick), but you can add on more to test your knowledge of how circuits work!

Two binder clips make contact with the 3V battery: one clip touching the positive side of the battery and one clip touching the negative.

We also have two binder clips on the LED: one clip on each leg of the LED. When the foil and pipe cleaners are wrapped around each binder clip, it acts as a conductive pathway to send power to our LED. That is, of course, if the positive power flow is attached to the anode of the LED and the negative power flow is attached to the cathode!

How a basic circuit works

This circuit introduces and reinforces how a basic circuit works.

Since we are building the pieces of a circuit ourselves (instead of wires to run power, a battery holder to produce the power, etc.), it helps kids understand how to build the pieces of a circuit themselves and learn how they work.

In addition, by putting the circuit together in the proper order, it helps kids understand the overall layout of a circuit to make it work.

Fine motor skills

Manipulating small components like binder clips, pipe cleaners, and paper clips helps children develop their fine motor skills. A great skill to work on when they’re younger!

Listening for instructions

If your child is working through this circuit themselves with you overseeing things, it’s a great opportunity to work on their listening skills so they can successfully build the pieces of the circuit.

More experiments about circuits to try out with your child

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