People have been fascinated by magnetism since early times and kids enjoy magnet activities. This STEM activity uses a variety of magnets to show the force around the magnet and compasses to help show direction of the force.
Safety note: Be sure to explain safety precautions to children. The magnet activities use magnets and iron filings. Never let any child under 6 play with magnetic toys unsupervised. Never put a magnet in your mouth. If powerful magnets are swallowed, they attract each other internally and cause extremely serious injury. Disclaimer: All information provided on this site is for entertainment and education purposes only. Using any information from thecasabouquet.com is at your own risk.
Instructions for magnet activities and compasses
- Put your compasses on a flat surface, away from magnets. Observe how the needles lines up. (Usually red points North).
- Using one magnet at a time, place the magnet in with the compasses. Move the magnet around. Try it upright from the surface. Try both sides of round or refrigerator magnets. Observe the compass needles. Can you identify the N and S on all your magnets?
- Put iron filings in a well-sealed plastic bag. Move the magnet around the bag. Observe the iron filings. Do not allow the iron filings near the magnets, they are almost impossible to remove!
- Try other metal objects with the magnets. Metal paper clips and cut up pipe cleaners are fun to try. Cut the pipe cleaner into 2-inch sections with wire cutters or scissors.
What questions can you answer with the magnets and compasses? Is the North pole on a magnet the same as the North pole of the Earth? Where are the poles on a round magnet? A flat refrigerator magnet?
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- Magnet wand, bar magnet, ceramic bar magnet , or round ceramic magnet
- Refrigerator magnets, salt and pepper kissing
- Compass 0.6 inch diameter
- Iron filings or hand warmer
- Pipe cleaners
- Metal paper clips
- Optional: Magnetic field demonstration plate
- Or Magnetic field demonstrator
What is the science?
Content: structure and properties of matter, forces and interactions, magnetic field, magnetic force
Magnets are metals that have a magnetic field and can attract other metals. They are usually made from iron or iron alloys, but cobalt and neodymium are also used.
Earth’s core has a lot of iron and the Earth’s magnetic field goes through the core, out through the poles and through space. The field lines are a way to represent the directions of the force the magnet can exert. The picture of the field lines is similar to the field lines around a bar magnet. (You can see these lines by carefully putting iron filings in a well-sealed resealable plastic bag. Spread the filings out inside the bag. Lay the bar magnet on top of the bag and observe the pattern the filings make.) A compass needle lines itself up with the Earth’s magnetic field.
Resource links for STEM magnet activities
- 8 magnet activities from Parents magazine
- Swallowing dangers from the American Academy of Pediatrics
- Facts and experiments from the Magnet Man
- Testing breakfast cereal for iron from Science Buddies
- Magnetic fields from Khan Academy
- Magnetic field of the earth from Georgia State University
- How a compass works from the US Geological Survey
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