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All About Electronic Circuits for Kids

Turning on a lamp or flipping a light switch is probably something you do daily without even thinking. Devices such as lights and radios have electrical parts inside of them that allow them to work. These parts have to be put together so they make a complete electric circuit. Without an electric circuit, electricity can't get where it needs to go.

What Is an Electronic Circuit?

Electronic circuits are simply pathways that transmit electric current, or moving electricity. These circuits make it possible for lights and appliances to work. Electric circuits have to have a source of power, wires that the electricity flows through, and a device that uses the electricity. These three parts have to be connected directly for the electric current to flow.

Parts of a Circuit

When you're powering something small, you might use a battery as the source of electricity for an electric circuit. The wires that carry the electricity are usually made out of metal and covered in a plastic coating. Metal conducts electricity well, and the plastic coating around the metal wiring doesn't: It insulates the electricity so it stays in the wire and won't hurt anyone or cause a fire. Electric circuits also have switches, which make it possible to control the flow of electricity through the circuit. Flipping a switch to the "on" position makes the electricity flow to the device. Flipping a switch to the "off" position breaks the circuit and stops the flow of electricity.

Series Circuit

A series circuit has all of the parts of the circuit connected to form a loop. Electricity flows through one part to the next part down the circuit. If one part of the series circuit stops working, the entire circuit stops working.

Parallel Circuit

A parallel circuit has different pathways within the circuit. The electricity divides as it moves through the circuit, with only part of it flowing along any of the paths. You can switch on or off the separate pathways without cutting off electricity to everything. An example of a parallel circuit would be a room full of lights: You don't have to have every light in the room turned on for one of them to work.

Series-Parallel Circuit

A series-parallel circuit is a circuit with both series-connected and parallel-connected parts in the same circuit. To work with this type of circuit, you need to know which parts are series-connected and which are parallel-connected. Then, you can adjust the different parts to make the circuit work the way you want it to work.

Closed, Open, and Short Circuits

A closed circuit is a circuit with all of the connections made so the electricity can flow. If the circuit is broken, the flow of electricity stops at that point. The circuit is no longer closed; it's an open circuit. Short circuits have a direct connection between two points, but these two points are not supposed to be connected to each other. Electricity will always take the shortest and easiest path, so when there's a short circuit, the electricity bypasses the path it's supposed to take and travels through the most direct connection.

Measuring Electricity

Electricity is measured in watts. A single watt is a tiny amount of power, so the amount of power used by very small devices is usually measured in watts. The amount of power used by larger devices is usually measured in kilowatts, with one kilowatt being equal to 1,000 watts. The large amounts of power created by power plants are measured in even bigger units like megawatts and gigawatts.