Squishing Circuits: Circuitry Learning with Electronics and Playdough in Early Childhood

  • Kylie PepplerEmail author
  • Karen Wohlwend
  • Naomi Thompson
  • Verily Tan
  • AnnMarie Thomas


While circuitry lessons have traditionally been first introduced in late elementary school, they remain challenging conceptually for undergraduates in physics and engineering courses. Seeking to provide a higher quality and earlier introduction to circuitry learning for young children (ages 3–5), this paper investigates the affordances of utilizing the Squishy Circuits toolkit, a circuitry kit that combines circuit components and playdough, as a first introduction. Our study engaged 45 children across three nursery school classrooms in open-ended play with Squishy Circuits toolkits for seven sessions over a period of 2 weeks. Here, we focus on six children in one focal classroom in order to illustrate the concepts that children are developing during play and open exploration with the kits and a range of crafting materials. Findings indicated that the Squishy Circuits toolkit enabled children to explore concepts important to circuitry learning, including current flow, polarity, and connections. Additionally, analysis of whole class conversations before and after the circuitry explorations indicated significant gains in children’s ability to discuss circuitry concepts over the course of the study. Through individual case studies, we illustrate how children enacted these concepts through their play and how the transparency afforded by the toolkit make the big ideas of circuitry visible. This work serves to illustrate how very young children can successfully begin to engage with science topics commonly introduced in later elementary school when those topics are framed through play and discovery with transparent and malleable materials.


Circuitry Electricity Maker education Objects-to-think-with Knowledge-in-action Play Early childhood 



This study was funded by the National Science Foundation (Grant #1553398).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Conflict of Interest

Author AnnMarie Thomas co-invented Squishy Circuits, and the Squishy Circuits company has made donations to her research lab to support undergraduate research. Authors Kylie Peppler, Karen Wohlwend, Naomi Thompson, and Verily Tan declare that they each have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of EducationIndiana UniversityBloomingtonUSA
  2. 2.School of EngineeringSt. Thomas UniversitySt. PaulUSA

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