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Light up Soft Toy
with LilyPad

Years 7-8

This project will explore two ways of controlling the flow of current to a LED using a button and switch. No programming is initially expected in this project, however once students are comfortable with connecting or sewing their circuits and attaching lights, a follow-up project that involves using a pre built Arduino program to light up a series of lights in order would be a useful next step.

This lesson idea was created by Peter Lelong.



This project will explore two ways of controlling the flow of current to a LED using a button and switch. No programming is initially expected in this project, however once students are comfortable with connecting or sewing their circuits and attaching lights, a follow­up project that involves using a pre built Arduino program to light up a series of lights in order would be a useful next step.

The LilyPad is an Arduino device designed for e­textile design activities using conductive thread and sewn into fabric.The LilyPad system was designed by Leah Buechley at the University of Colorado Boulder. The commercial version of the kit, which launched in 2007, was collaboratively designed by Leah and SparkFun Electronics. You can learn more about LilyPad at


  • Lilypad ProtoSnap kit with rechargeable battery
  • LilyPad LED’s
  • Conductive thread
  • Alligator clips
  • Arduino IDE installed onto computers
  • Mini USB cable
  • Chalk or pen for marking fabric
  • Felt/Material
  • Scissors
  • Paper
  • Needle
  • Pencils for design sketches
  • Embroidery hoop (suggested)
  • Mac or PC with latest Arduino IDE installed:
    For Windows
    For Mac

Prior Student Learning

The understanding of simple circuits both serial and parallel is an advantage prior to commencing work with the LilyPads.

Parallel circuit simulation: This resource also addresses Science Understanding in the area of physical science for up to year 9 science students. Students learn some Science Inquiry Skills in the process of the simulation. This resource should be used with other Intel resources on electric circuits for maximum benefit. A resource can be found on the Digital Technologies Hub

The following is an example of a parallel circuit

Parallel circuit

Series circuit simulation: In this simulation students select and move a battery, switch and two light bulbs to positions around a circuit so that the light bulbs are in series with each other. Students receive feedback if their circuit is not a working series circuit. Students drag and drop a battery, switch, and two light bulbs into position on a circuit. Students can compare the brightness of one bulb in a circuit and two bulbs in series in the circuit. A resource can be found on the Digital Technologies Hub

In this exercise no programming is required;

Some practical sewing skills using a needle and thread would be desirable.

Learning hook

  1. Create a plush toy that lights up with LED lights and program. Students will have the opportunity to work with needle and thread to sew a circuit where LED lights turn on and off on elements of a plush toy (e.g., eyes). This is an introductory activity that will later lead to a programming task using the Arduino IDE Software.
  2. This is an opportunity to engage students in a creative task using a range of materials that can then be made interactive and engaging which will allow students to then explore more complex e-textile activities using the various sensors on a LilyPad.
  3. The LilyPad Arduino is a great introduction to wearable technology or e-textiles. You can create amazing projects and sew them into your clothes, toys, backpacks to make them light up, play music and vibrate.
  4. Perhaps show some examples of wearable technology and e-textiles. There are plenty of examples on Pinterest, e.g. Vini Diktova's Lilypaid Arduino pinterest board or Kit Elder's Lilypad/ Arduino/ e-textiles pinterest board
  5. Some examples of LilyPad projects can be found here - maybe show a couple of interesting ones:
  6. Describe each component of the LilyPad kit, and allow the students to explore the kit, asking them what they think each component might be. Explain the functionality of the main round board, and that inputs can be digital or analogue. Digital has two states (on/off, high/low, or true/false) but analogue can take values in between. Identify the components of the kit that are analogue or digital.
    • When discussing each component, discuss how it can be used in programming. Is it an input component (that is, it provides input to the board)? If so, then values need to be read from it, like from a light sensor. Is it an output component? If so, then values need to be written to it, like to a LED.
  7. When discussing how code can be written for the LilyPad Arduino to interact with these components, introduce the concept of functions and discuss how arduino has pre­defined functions for all the LilyPad components. Some of these functions include:
    • loop - for repetition
    • delay - delays action
    • pinMode - for configuring the specified pin to behave either as an input or an output
    • digitalWrite - for writing a low or high value to a pin
  8. A full documentation and description of these functions can be found here.

Girls in Focus:

Creating a plush toy that lights up is an attractive undertaking, and many girls will relish the opportunity to bring their creativity to the project. The learning hook could be strengthened by adding an authentic social context. Girls engage more deeply with project-based learning that connects to meaningful contexts. For example, students could explore the role of light in sensory toys or sleep aids for children, or for children with hearing or vision impairments, and create a toy that combines multiple sensory experiences (ie light and texture).

Learning map and outcomes

  • Students create interactive information. Students plan, document and effectively manage processes and resources to produce designed solutions for each of the prescribed technologies contexts.
  • Distinguish between different types of networks and defined purposes.
  • They define and decompose problems in terms of functional requirements and constraints.
  • They evaluate information systems and their solutions in terms of meeting needs, innovation and sustainability.
  • They analyse and evaluate data from a range of sources to model and create solutions. They use appropriate protocols when communicating and collaborating online.

Students design and create a plush toy that has various elements connected to a LilyPad with battery and on/off switch.

  • Students discuss the differences between series and parallel networks
  • Students collaborate to decide how to best design their circuit for their soft toy.
  • A template of a toy should be drawn so that the circuit can be planned prior to commencing sewing the conductive thread. This example from sparkfun electronics might help.
  • Students create a diagram flow chart to show connections needed for LilyPad components and the chosen design of the plush toy
  • Students sew and place LED lights, switches and buttons onto the felt material.
  • Students test their switch to see that lights turn on and off as expected.
  • Students evaluate the solution and make improvements as needed.

Learning input

  • The teacher introduces the idea of e-textiles. Some videos on e-textiles that might engage students are;
  • The teacher shares some examples if available of toys that have LED lights that turn on and off during play. A discussion on circuits should be a part of a lesson preparation.
  • Teacher shows examples of the two differing circuits and introduces students to the Digital Technologies Hub resources introduced earlier that allow students to explore circuits.

Allow time for discussion on circuits and the future of clothing that contains some form of circuitry. Look also at smart materials and how they might change the way we dress and think of clothing in the future.

Ask students how smart clothing that monitors an individual’s health might be of value.

Girls in Focus:

Girls engage with collaborative, social learning and respond well to hands-on learning opportunities. Girls may have had less experience with electrical circuits and need more time to explore at their own pace. Before engaging with the simulated circuits, students could work in pairs to explore building actual series and parallel circuits, then use the simulations to further test their hypotheses. Students could test their power source, switch, conductive thread and LEDs to ensure the circuit works.

Learning construction

Teachers should be familiar with circuitry and have some understanding of how to thread and sew with needle and material.

Have students watch the video on sewing conductive thread

  • Cut out template for toy from felt material keeping mind the size s that the conductive thread does not touch when sewed between switch, button and LED’s
  • Talk about the need to have thread connected to the positive or negative connectors on switches, buttons and LED’s and not to cross over. Explain a short circuit.
  • Once materials are sewn together connect the battery and check to see if button works in turning on and off LEDs.
  • Determine how this simple project might be enhanced or made more interactive with other components.

Girls in Focus:

Girls often do not see STEM as a creative pursuit. Emphasising the creative process as well as the final construction of the toy enables girls to fully develop and refine their creative ideas. Students could be given the opportunity to sketch their designs, seek feedback from peers, and iterate on their design before creating their toy.

Learning demo

  • Students present their finished toys to their peers and then to students in younger classes.

Girls in Focus:

Engaging in context-based, project-based learning requires students to not only design a solution but also to test that solution in context. Girls value context-based learning and projects that ‘make a difference’. Having designed a toy for a specific purpose (eg sensory engagement), students could explain their toy to the class, and include a video of a small child engaging with the toy. They could use the video to justify their assessment of the success of their design.

Learning reflection

  • Students might now reflect on the simplicity of the task as it first appeared and look at the limitations of producing e-textiles as possible business.
  • How might e-textiles be developed to become a more mainstream product and if an entrepreneur looking to capture a market of young buyers, what might be the hook that captures the interest of someone looking for a new type of clothing?

Girls in Focus:

Girls value creativity and opportunities to problem-solve for the common good. They could reflect on the creative opportunities of e-textiles, the potential market for e-textiles, and how to take ideas to market. In addition to considering fashion opportunities, they could think of other functions of e-textiles and how those might be applied. There is also potential to build on this project and incorporate the Lilypad technology that requires a certain level of programming using the Arduino IDE. Students could explore the possibilities this type of technology might open up for their next creative project.