Classic physics science experiment for kids: can you guess which everyday items are attracted to magnets?
Jewel found my stash of old Ladybird reference books from when I was a little girl. They’re over 30 years old! (Bless my dear mother for keeping them for all these years!)
There’s a few Junior Science books in the collection, and Jewel asked if she could try some of the experiments. Umm, sure!
The first one she chose is from the Magnets and Electricity book, and is a classic experiment on magnetism. Essentially you find some random items from around the house, predict whether you think they will be attracted or not attracted to a magnet, test and sort.
This is a fun experiment that can be tailored to suit preschool, kindergarten, or early primary school aged kids. My kids were 6 years old (grade one) and 3.5 years old (preschool) when we did this at our home.
I recommend using a large-sized magnet. Small magnets that could potentially be swallowed are particularly dangerous if swallowed concurrently with other magnets or items attracted to magnets, as they can attract each other inside the gut and cause all sorts of nasty problems. Also, if your child tends to put things in their mouth, you may want to avoid small items altogether. You know your child. Use your best judgement, and please supervise at all times.
Magnetic Attraction Experiment for Kids
Here’s what we used.
- (Our vintage copy of) Ladybird Junior Science: Magnets and Electricity
- A large strong magnet. (Ours is 5cm x 4.5cm. The horseshoe shape makes it stronger than a normal bar magnet because the poles are closer together).
- Random items from around the house. (We included items made from wood, porcelain, different types of metal, plastic, chalk, etc.)
- Three trays
- Paper and pen
What is Attracted to a Magnet?
My (just turned) 6 year old daughter Jewel helped to choose our collection of random items, purposely selecting things made from different materials. She chose a knife, fork and spoon (each from different cutlery sets), a key, two coins, nails, a screw and nut, a paper fastener (split pin), a rubber sticker, her school badge, an egg cup, a die, a peg, a piece of chalk, a rock and a plastic toy boat.
Jewel created two lists, one with “Attracted To” and the other with “Not Attracted To” at the top.
Jewel guessed which items she thought might be attracted to the magnet, drawing on our previous experiences and observations (basically all the metal looking ones), and then tested each item by bringing it close to the magnet and seeing if she could feel a magnetic “pull” force.
She sorted the items into two trays – one for items attracted to magnets, and the other for items not attracted to magnets.
At one point, Jewel casually referred to one of the trays as holding all the magnetic items, and so we paused the experiment to talk about what magnetic means. We realised that actually neither of the trays held magnetic items, as neither of the trays held magnets! The only magnetic item was the magnet she was holding in her own hand. It’s gradually starting to sink in that items can either be attracted to, or not attracted to magnets, without being magnetic themselves.
We had an interesting discussion when it came to the wooden peg. The spring part of the peg was attracted to the magnet, but the wooden part was not. Jewel decided it should be placed in the middle of her two trays, as it didn’t neatly fit into either category.
Once Jewel finished sorting, she wrote out her two lists, guessing how to phonetically spell the words that she didn’t know (which was most of them). Great writing / spelling practice for her!
Jewel thought it was interesting that the key, fork and both coins made it onto the “not attracted to magnet” tray, as she’d guessed otherwise. We talked about how metals that contain iron (like steel) are attracted to magnets, but there are many other metals that are not. We went through some of the metals that she knows that are not attracted to magnets, like gold, silver, bronze (topical right now because of the Olympics coming up!), copper and aluminum.
If you wanted to extend this experiment further, you could ask kids to further sort the “Attracted To Magnet” list by whether they thought the attraction was strong or weak, and discuss why.
Magnetic Attraction Experiment for Preschoolers
The next morning, my 3.5 year old daughter Bumble Bee saw the trays, and wanted to know what they were for. She asked if she could do the experiment too. Umm, sure!
Bee isn’t able to read or write, but as I believe in creating “print-rich” environments, I wrote labels for her trays anyway. She knew what the labels said, and could easily remember which tray was which.
As Bee tested and sorted, we chatted about how you can feel a magnetic pull when you bring the magnet close to some of the items and not others.
Fun Science Fact
A magnet is a something that produces a magnetic field. An easy way to see if something is magnetic, is to put it near a piece of iron or steel (which is a metal containing iron) and see if it produces a force that pulls the object towards it. Refrigerator doors are made from steel, which is why fridge magnets stick to them. Another easy way to feel magnetic force is to put a magnet near another magnet. Sometimes this creates a pushing force and sometimes this creates a pulling force.
You can find this activity, and more, on our physics activities for kids page.
Here’s a few you might like:
- Playing around with Refraction of Light – a fun STEM + Art activity
- Easy Catapult that you can make using items from your recycling bin
- Challenge for Kids: Can you build a 3D structure?
- Easy DIY Balance Scale for toddlers or preschoolers
- How to make cool heart-shaped bubble wands (but what shape bubbles will they make?)
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