Opening up the world of magnetism

Electricity and magnetism are interrelated phenomena named electromagnetism. Electrically charged particles create a magnetic field around them and magnets can create electricity by moving electrons around in objects near them. This phenomenon is utilised f.ex. in generators and wind turbines. In these experiments no electricity is made, but at some point we will build a coil and produce electricity (copper wire coiled and then a magnet moved in the coil), but not yet. First I wanted us to explore magnets.

First we played magnetic agents. I gave my daughter a weak magnet. Then I gave her the BIG rule: Do not take magnets anywhere near electronic gadgets like iPhones and computers as they may break. Then I sent her off to try to stick the magnet onto things to see where it would stick and where it wouldn’t. I went with her and noted upon the material of the things she tried, wondered about whether the table was made of wood, or the fridge door metal. After the enthusiasm had waned a bit but before it got boring, I summarised that the magnet sticks to metals. This is caused by its ability to move those electrons around and electrons move more freely in metal than f.ex. wood.

Next we gathered some pine needles in a box. You could also use sand. You also need small metal balls or other small metal items (nails, screws etc.) to mix in the sand/needles. Finally you need some magnets. Then you just mix the metal stuff in the box and search for them with the magnets. it is surprisingly fun with small kids (not very small ones as they may try to swallow the little things).

Top left: gathering supplies - namely needles. Top right: supplies needed for this experiment. Bottom left: hiding the marbles. Bottom right: They cannot escape the majestic magnet!

Top left: gathering supplies – namely needles. Top right: supplies needed for this experiment. Bottom left: hiding the marbles. Bottom right: They cannot escape the majestic magnet!

Then we examined our magnets. I had found some magnets from Amazon that had the north pole – south pole signals, but any magnets can do. I wanted two like this because I wanted daughter to experiment with trying to connect south to north (very easy to do as they attract each other) and north to north (very hard as they expel each other). She had a good go and enjoyed as they twisted in her hand.

Playing with magnets

Our attempt to connect two magnets together. First + to -, which worked well and then + to + which did not work so well.

Then there was an interlude of free activity which daughter used to build something out of our magnets. She focused for a long time to get them exactly right:

Building with magnets

Free play with materials and the wonderful structure that was the end result

Finally I wanted to demonstrate that magnets affect an area much bigger than they themselves are, so I had found (again, on Amazon, but can be found elsewhere as well, not trying to promote Amazon here) some iron filings. I also had three different kinds of magnets. I wanted to have a couple of different kinds to demonstrate that they each have this property and also to see what kinds of lines they make. They can be seen in the image below on the top left corner. So we put the magnet on the table and put a paper above it. Then we very carefully put some iron filings on the paper. Well, at first we weren’t so careful. That is why there is so much of the stuff in the middle top image. But after that we were more careful. It was quite exciting even for me to see it really work as planned and to see the magnetic lines around the magnet. I explained that the earth is also a very big magnet and that the magnetic lines around it protect us from rays sent but the sun. Finally we cleaned up. It was quite fun to notice that when there was very little iron filings on the paper, they moved as we moved the paper as the magnet was still, but if there was too much on the paper, the magnet moved with the with the paper as the pull was strong enough to pick it up.

Magnetic lines made visible with iron filings

We played with iron filings to visualise the magnetic lines of magnets

I will continue with magnets at a later date.


If you try these experiments at home and your child asks questions, please let me know what types of questions they ask in the comment section so I can further develop these instructions. If you have questions about these experiments or instructions, leave me a comment and I will answer and also improve these instructions. Also, please remember like and share if you find this useful.

Copyright text and images: Satu Korhonen. You are free to try these experiments out, use them in your teaching. But instead of copying the text or images, link back to this page.

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