Imagine a bacon-wrapped Ferrari. Still not better than our free technical reports.

Devoxx4Kids, Squishy Circuits: Mixing Science & Art for Young Kids

Virtual JUG — the online Java User Group that brings you the best technical sessions from all over the world. This year, we at RebelLabs continue to provide you with short recaps of sessions, including what we learned, giving you a chance to know a bit more about the speakers in a short interview with them after they have presented their session.

This time we changed it up a bit with our presenter. Pavi Bhatter is high school student in the San Francisco area, interested in math, physics, psychology and playing the drums. You can learn more about her from her website:

Pavi got into technology mostly through family, her dad is an engineer, but one of the main moving powers that helped Pavi was Devoxx4Kids, the organization that tries to attract children into technology and help explain the basics of programming and software engineering.

Devoxx4Kids helped quite a bit. Pavi started from a small workshop at a local school, and from there it grew into an incredibly entertaining workshop. In fact, conferences like OSCON and JavaOne invite Pavi to present her session.

While we’re talking about Devoxx4Kids, you can help us and them at once by filling this year’s RebelLabs Java Tools and Technologies survey. In the survey we ask about programming languages, libraries, and frameworks you’re using, how your team handles development processes, what IDEs you favor and so on.

We’ll publish the results of the survey in a great looking report, freely available to anyone, so the whole Java ecosystem benefits from this information.

Devoxx For Kids

Oh, and this year we’re giving up to $1000 directly to Devoxx4Kids, based on the number of responses we get! Make sure you fill the survey and share it to get this money to a very deserving cause.

Anyway, back to the original topic, you can find the recording of this session below, and I’ll try to highlight the most important parts of the session in this post below.

Squishy Circuits: Mixing Science & Art for Young Kids

Ever wanted to combine science, technology and art together into something that children can participate in while learning? Well, squishy circuits can be one answer to that. Originally inspired by the St. Thomas university course at the Playful Learning Lab that carries the same name. The goal of the course is to allow kids of all ages to create circuits and explore electronics using play dough.

They introduce concepts like circuits, electricity, resistance and so forth and through a series of activities explore these concepts by building the actual circuits from conductive dough.

During a typical workshop, Pavi would explain to approximately 30 children, how the electricity works, how to create insulating and conductive dough and how to wire it up to get LEDs to work. A starter kit includes a few wires, a handful of LEDs, a battery pack where one can attach the external batteries. Kids can build whatever they want from these building parts, their imagination is the only limit.


However, it’s not that easy and you have to understand at least the basic principles of how the electricity works. The essential conditions for building a circuit are:

  • you need a closed circular path for the current to flow,
  • you need a source of energy to make the current flow through the circuit,
  • you can have an element that reacts to the current, say an LED, light emitting diode.

This might seem too straightforward, but don’t forget, the workshop is for the kids and needs to introduce the technology so everyone would be able to follow and get on board.

Pavi introduces the LED and talks about how batteries convert stored chemical energy into the electricity. How the battery has a positive and negative poles, and that certain materials provide current and certain do not. Then it’s time to introduce two types of building material for the workshop: conductive and insulating dough. One allows the current to pass through it while the other used to insulate parts of the conductive dough, so the electricity would pass through LEDs rather than circumvent them.

Now you, and the children on the workshop have enough theoretical knowledge to start building the circuits. Since we’re working with electricity here, we have to follow the safety rules.


  • Never connect the ends of wires directly to each other!
  • Do not connect the LEDs directly to the wires without using the playdough!
  • When you are not using the battery pack, turn it off!
  • When dealing with hot water, ask for volunteers to help you and be careful, it’s hot!

That’s it, you’re ready to build and when you want to take the next step, take a look at Arudino project.


Naturally, you’re now super excited to try something like that. These are some of the resources that can help you in starting out with creating your own squishy circuits.

Here’s a Youtube video that will take you through the recipe for preparing conductive dough.
Below is the list of the individual parts that Pavi provides to the kids at the workshops, you can get them for yourselves and start building!

Note, that the latter battery holders are cheaper and therefore obviously of lower quality. Pavi used them in her earlier workshops but then switched to the better quality ones from eBay as the cheaper ones were constantly breaking as the attendees used them.

That is mostly it, be sure to take a look at the actual video of the session, Pavi explains things very clearly and shows many examples of what one can build from the playdough, so you can get your creative side running.

What did you think of the session? Share your thoughts in the comments section below or tweet at us: @zeroturnaround.

Read next: