Electrical Motors: A Simple Guide to Supporting Children’s Exploration

Most children like to play with electronics even if it is for a short period of time. Hence, why not use that innate interest to foster their scientific knowledge growth. In this blog post, I share with you simple ideas on how to invite children to explore and learn about motors.

Small motors, those of 1.5 volts for example, are quite an ingenious invention and our focus for the activities I suggest here. Motors work based on an electromagnetic induction. When electricity flows through the internal elements of the motor, the electrons in the magnet spin. This spin action produces kinetic energy that can then be transformed into torque to move the gear and axle in the motor. Depending on the size and use of the motor the external components will vary. However, since the motors we typically use in school settetings are small motors these are typically built with two external prongs for connectivity. This easily translates into an opportunity for children to complete a circuit and propel an object.


Necessary Equipment

In order for children to play (and learn!) with motors other components are necessary. That is, children will need at the very least:

Have those materials ready? Here are some activities you can do with your child or your child can do independently.

Activity One: Examining a Motor

One of children’s favorite activity to do is to break electronics and examine the internal elements. Motors, are no exception. If you have motors to spare and don’t mind wasting one, encourage your child to use pliers and a hammer to investigate. Then, use an encyclopedia to indentify as many parts as possible. We did just that and my daughter had a blast. You can find more information about small motors on Encyclopedia Britannica.


Activity Two: Propelling a Toy Car

The first step in propelling an object with a motor is to figure out how to properly connect the motor. Invite children to inspect the prongs in the motor. These are where the cables connect. Then, using prior knowledge on series circuits create a continous loop of electricity. It will look like this.


Once the motor operates, children can use a propeller to power a toy car. I always like to present materials on an economical tray as they tend to be much more appealing to the eye. Do you like the idea of using a tray?


Connect the propeller to the motor’s rod and then connect one alligator wire to each motor prong (i.e., two cables). Once that is connected, mount the motor on a toy car. Ours was such a small toy that it required to place the motor on something tall. After scouting the house for something simple I suggested to my daughter to use a wine cork. It worked wonders! 

Activity Three: Coloring with a Motorized Cup

Another project to use with a motor is creating a motorized spirograph, a.k.a. cup with markers. It is another simple activity that is a lot of fun. For this project your child will need:


Step One: 

With the cup upside down, line up the markers on the plastic cup and tape them. Make sure that the tip of the marker is protuding the perimeter of the cup. Tape it tight so the markers don’t fall off.

Step Two:

Connect the motor to the wires and battery as in the previous activity. Then, tape it to the top of the cup.img_3729

Step Three:

Remove markers caps, turn the motor on, and enjoy the mechanical doodles.


Extending Learning 

Like these activities and want more? Robotics is a natural extension to motors. Ready to get the materials to help your children? I have affiliated with Nasco Education to bring you the best products. Check them out! I strongly recommend getting the STEAM Solutions for Robotics. Your child will thank me!

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{All of the links in this blog post are affiliate links. Affiliate links means that I earn a small comission if you purchase items using my link. This is at no extra cost to you.}

Reizelie is a parent and a Ph.D. mom trained in science education with a passion for all things STEM. She loves learning and teaching and on her spare time she helps families create home environments that foster learning. Reizelie is committed to a healthy lifestyle and shares ideas on education, cooking, urban homesteading, and fitness.

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