Static Electricity Lesson for Kids: Definition & Facts

Instructor: Dacia Upkins

Dacia has taught all core elementary subjects for 14 years with a Master's degree in Urban Teacher Leadership.

In this lesson, you'll learn what is happening when you touch a doorknob and get shocked. You'll also learn how this is related to large, powerful bolts of lightning.

It's Electric!

Let's say you're at a party, where there are tons of balloons bouncing around. Naturally, first thing you do is grab one, rub it against your best friend's hair, and watch as the balloon sticks to their head for the rest of the day. You've just discovered static electricity!

What just happened here?

You need to know that all things are made of matter, and matter is made up of teeny things called atoms, which are the building blocks of matter. Inside of atoms, there are even smaller particles called neutrons, protons, and electrons.

Now, electrons can jump from one atom to another, like frogs do from lily pad to lily pad. This jumping is called electricity. There are two types of electricity: current electricity and static electricity. This lesson focuses on static electricity.

What Causes Static Electricity?

Static electricity occurs when there is a build up of electrons on something, giving it an electric charge. The electrons will then be attracted to something with less electric charge, so they'll jump to an object that has fewer electrons. It's like students who are waiting for the bus home. If the bus they usually take home is full, they will look for an emptier bus that has more space.

Ouch! What Was That?

Although I love shuffling around the house in my warm, fuzzy socks, I get nervous every time I touch a doorknob, because I know I may be shocked. This shock is an example of static electricity.

As I walk across the floor with my socks rubbing against the carpet, electrons jump from the carpet to hitch a ride on me. Eventually those electrons get too crowded, and when I touch the doorknob, all the extra electrons jump from me and onto the doorknob. The shock I feel is the static electricity. Ouch!

Rubbing your feet on carpet and then touching an object can cause static electricity.
Static electricity

The Most Powerful Static Electricity

Even though that shock you may get from touching a doorknob can be quite, well, shocking, it is nothing compared to the static electricity show you see when large bolts of lightning streak across the sky during a thunderstorm.

During a thunderstorm, a lot of extra electrons may build up in the clouds. These electrons, like the ones on my socks, may jump ship because they're so crowded, which we see as a lightning strike. This type of static electricity is very powerful and dangerous, so take cover inside during a thunderstorm.

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