Create a card with a switch on it where you can turn a light on or off!
This is a great hands-on project for a parent-child class that helps to reinforce how electrical circuits work. We use it when we study Electricity. We do it with 3 – 6 year olds when we have one-on-one support from parents. The older children need minimal support, but couldn’t do it completely on their own.
Although you could use plain cardstock or index cards and freehand the design (here’s directions), I have found it is much easier with this pre-printed template to guide placement.
- Template – print on cardstock, double-sided flip on long side
- LED light
- 3V lithium battery
- copper tape
- metal paper fasteners.
- Equipment: scissors, pen, hole punch, regular tape.
How to Make It:
Tip: If you’d like to print out a set of directions, click here. Otherwise, read on…
Decide what to draw:
Talk with the child about what they would like to draw. Think of something that could have one light in the design to light it up. (If you need inspiration for designs, I made up this PDF that shows ideas for designs such as holiday cards, a lighthouse, fire engine, firefly or angler fish. Or the nose of any animal. (https://inventorsoftomorrowdotcom.files.wordpress.com/2021/11/led-card-designs.pdf)
Child does their drawing
Be sure it’s lined up so the light will be where it is on the template.
Add copper tape for circuit
Use copper tape to cover the top orange line—start on the front and wrap it around to the back, be careful not to break or cut that piece of tape. Then use copper tape to cover the bottom orange line front to back. The two lines of tape must NOT touch each other!
Set up switch:
Use the hole punch to make a hole where your switch will go. Put the fastener in from the back of the card and spread its legs open flat on the front. Turn the fastener so both legs are touching copper tape. Make sure they lay flat so they have good contact with the copper. Label that as the “on” position. Then turn it so both legs are NOT touching copper tape. Label that as “off” and leave the switch in the off position for now.
Add the light: Use a pen to poke a small hole for the light. Look at the light—see how one leg is a little longer than the other? That’s the leg that needs to touch the positive + side of the battery. Insert the light from front. Spread the short leg open flat on the back of the card so it lays on the top line of copper tape. Tape that down with regular tape.
Add the battery. Put the battery with positive (smooth side) up and the negative (bumpy side) down and laying on the copper tape. Then, bend the long leg of the light down over the battery so it’s flat on top of the battery. Tape the leg on top of the battery. Then, add tape on top of that to tape the leg/battery to the card securely.
Turn the switch to the on position. Does the bulb light up? Hurray! If it doesn’t light up, try pressing the legs of the switch down flat on the copper tape. Does it light up? Hurray! (You may just need to always press on it to get it to work.)
If it doesn’t light up, try checking that all the connections are solid, and that you have a circuit where you can trace the positive line and the negative line and they don’t overlap each other. Make sure the switch is on.
Enjoy this project!
Here are some freehand samples from kids before I designed the template.
Play with It
There are so many things you can do with this basic idea! One of my co-teachers combined this with our Pop-Up House project and created this idea. You fold the back of the card down to connect the horizontal strip of tape with the two vertical strips, and press on the on button to turn on the light.
FYI: You can find our old method at https://inventorsoftomorrow.com/2021/02/05/make-a-picture-that-lights-up/. Things I don’t like about our old method: It required folding over one corner of the card, which wasn’t visually appealing, and also, because the battery had to be in a corner, sometimes it was challenging to place the drawing just right so it was easy to connect the battery. I prefer this method where you don’t have to fold the card. We also decided to create a template that showed them where to tape rather than having every family figure out their own path. The idea to add the switch was from: https://www.instructables.com/Light-Up-LED-Card/ and we decided to move the switch to the front so it was easy to see the switch and the light at the same time.
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