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  • Writer's pictureAmy Wung Tsao

The Magic of Magnet Science

A Note from Amy

I love how little kids don't even take a simple refrigerator magnet for granted. It’s still magic to them! My boys spent a good chunk of an afternoon running around the house together, sticking their new magnet wand to all the things. 

While my boys were shouting “It sticks! Wait, let’s try this one next!” I got to sit on the couch and read Throwback by Maureen Goo. (5 stars, gave me all the feels.) Parenting win of the day!


Magnets - What Makes Them Stick Anyway?

"Magnetism, as you recall from physics class, is a powerful force that causes certain items to be attracted to refrigerators.”

~ Dave Barry (comedian)

Blue refrigerator with several novelty magnets on it, including some storm trooper figures, a rectangle magnet with a trolley and the words “Budapest is always a good idea”, and several small round colorful button magnets.
Credit: on UnSplash

Credit: on UnSplash

Magnets! The invisible force that keeps your fridge door closed, and makes all our motors work! 

You may be a grown-up who takes magnets for granted, and has never really wondered how they work. Well, just for you, here’s my basic primer on magnets:1. Magnets are objects that attract (pull on) ferromagnetic metals like iron and nickel. Steel paper clips stick to magnets because steel has iron in it.

2. A paper clip alone isn’t a magnet - it doesn't stick to other paper clips. Unless you rub that boring paper clip on a strong magnet, making the paper clip into a magnet too!

3. An iron rod alone isn't a magnet. But you can transform the iron rod into an electromagnet by wrapping a wire with an electrical current around it.

Now that you’ve got the basics down, here are my favorite STEM resources about magnets for preschoolers, kindergarteners, 1st graders and 2nd graders! (Just a reminder - I am never paid to mention any of these resources; there are no affiliate links.)


Magnet Science Videos

Fun with Magnets! from SciShow Kids (YouTube)

Great for preschoolers who haven’t experimented with magnets on their own yet. Jessi and Squeaks will get kids noticing how magnets stick to some things and not others!

How are Magnets Made? from Mystery Science (YouTube)

Mystery Doug takes you on history tour, from the discovery of naturally occurring magnets called lodestone to modern technology including maglev trains. And he changes a boring paper clip into a magnet!

from ScienceMax (YouTube) 

Can Phil make himself float in the air using the power of magnets? (Yes he can!) For little ones with a shorter attention span, SciShow kids has a 4 minute video with smaller floating magnets


Magnet Science Books

I love books that layer science into a narrative story. But I couldn’t find one like that on magnets! A shame, maybe I’ll have to write one myself!

So here are a couple great nonfiction books that don’t have a story arc, but they do explain the science of magnets in kid-friendly ways!

Cover illustration of brown-skinned boy and girl wearing t-shirts at a table with their brown dog. The dog has a horseshoe magnet in his mouth, with a paperclip stuck the magnet. The girl is holding a bar magnet with a paperclip standing straight up on it. There are more paperclips, magnets, and other metal objects on the table. The boy has his arms raised in excitement. The title “Magnets Push Magnets Pull” has horseshoe magnets forming the letter U in the words Push and Pull.

by David Adler, illustrated by Anna Raff

This scientific primer on magnets, compasses, and electromagnets is simple and thorough! There are many activity ideas along the way, but the illustrations clearly show what’s supposed to happen, even if you don’t have a bar magnet or iron filings to do the activity yourself.

Cover illustration done in comic book style of a dark-skinned, bald man with red-tinted sunglasses holding a giant horseshoe magnet. Jagged lightning emanates from the magnet ends, shooting towards metal rings and metal tools that are flying in the air towards the magnet.

By Andrea Gianopoulos, illustrated by Cynthia Martin and Barbara Schulz

The Max Axiom Super Scientist series is clearly aimed at the superhero-obsessed kid crowd! 

Super Scientist Max travels back in time to watch humans discover magnets Then he shrinks to the size of an atom to see how spinning electrons create the magnetic force. Finally he blasts off into space to see the Earth’s giant magnetic field!  The scientific explanations fly by pretty quick, so this may be too much for the younger preschool and kindergarten crowd.


Magnet Science Activities

Checklist titled "Scavenger Challenge", with items like a coin, pipe cleaner, paperclip, etc.

Go on a magnet scavenger hunt!

Arm your kid with a magnet and send them out to see what it sticks to! Independent discovery at its finest. If that’s too open-ended, Brookhaven National Lab has this scavenger hunt list of things to try your magnet on.

Some things may surprise you! I was just as surprised as my kids to learn that only some of my stainless steel pots are magnetic, and some aren't.

Two pieces of paper with lines and splotches of paint. A blue magnet wand with small metal objects like a ball and spring attached to it lie next to the papers, along with small open paint cups.

Paint with Magnets! from Left Brain Craft Brain

This is such a great combination of art and science! Paint with a magnet and bits of metal that you found in the scavenger hunt. 

It’s easier with a strong magnet, stronger than your standard fridge magnet. Learning Resources has some options in its $19 Magnet Movers set, or you can find a single magnet wand for around $6 online

Arch made of multi-colored LEGOs. Three paper clips touching each other appear to be floating inside the arch.

This one will need a really strong magnet! Our magnet wand from Learning Resources was just strong enough to float a single paper clip, but two clips were too heavy.  Still, floating one paper clip was pretty darn impressive to all my kids, and it was super easy to set up! Building a LEGO structure to hold the magnet is completely optional, as you can easily hold the magnet by hand instead. 


I hope you and the kids in your life have a lot of fun sticking magnets to things this month!  I’ll be back in your inbox next month with a post all about birds. Their feathers, their bird calls, their nests - so much to learn! 

Until next time, have fun lighting sparks of curiosity,

Amy Wung Tsao

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