Solar Energy for Kids: Reverse Engineering a Solar Toy!


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The best way to figure out how something works is to take it apart, or reverse engineer it. A while back, my son had  bought a solar powered toy at Dollar Tree. We decided to reverse engineer the toy to better understand solar energy. Our decision ended up being a great way to learn about solar energy for kids.

Solar Power for Kids

Solar Energy for Kids: Reverse Engineering a Solar Toy!

In a previous post, I wrote a list of 25 great STEM toys available at Dollar Tree. One of the toys I featured was a swinging toy, powered by solar energy. To learn what caused the toy to move, my son and I took the toy apart, and learned about each part of the toy.

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Step 1: First we looked over the toy. We noticed a mirror-like rectangle on the base, and a magnet under the snowman.





Step 2: Next we turned the solar toy over to see the bottom of the base. We removed the bottom plate of the base using a flathead screwdriver.


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Step 3: When we took the base plate off, we saw four parts to a circuit:

solar panel
capacitor
circuit board
copper coil






These 4 parts make up an electrical circuit. Let’s explore these 4 components:

Solar Panel

All light is made of photons. When photons from sunlight hit a solar panel, they release electrons from orbiting the nucleus of the atom. The electrons then travel to the capacitor through a wire connecting the solar panel and capacitor.

Capacitor

The capacitor is where electrons are stored until they are needed to flow somewhere else. The electrons stay in the capacitor until they are able to flow out again.

Circuit Board

A circuit board connects electronic parts. On the circuit board is a black blob, which is a circuit chip. The circuit chip acts as a gate between the capacitor and copper coil. The circuit chip releases electrons to the copper coil at a specific timing.

Copper Coil

When the electrons flow through the copper coil, the coil becomes a magnet!

How does the coil become a magnet?

All electrons have a negative charge. The drawing below shows the movement of electrons in two magnets. Electrons flow in the direction of the arrows. The movement of the electrons is called a magnetic field. The side of the magnet receiving electrons has a negative charge. On the opposite side of the magnet electrons are leaving, so that side has a positive charge. When positive sides (or negative sides) of two magnets are put together, the magnets repel each other. The reason the like charge sides repel each other is because the electrons in the magnetic fields are pushing each other away.






On the dollar tree magnetic toy, when the copper coil receives electrons from the circuit chip, the side of the magnet that receives the electrons has a negative charge. Since the two magnets push away, this tells us the charge on each magnet is the same.

Reviewing our Project about Solar Power for kids

After going through our exercise, and talking about all the parts of the circuit, my son and I summarized our electrical circuit by drawing a diagram of the movement of electrons:

I loved how this super inexpensive toy introduced my son to a seemingly complicated concept like solar energy. I’m also loving how my son is exploring green energy sources. I’m going to have to find other activities to spark his interest in green energy!

Did you enjoy this post? Try some of my other STEM projects!

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