What’s Magnetic? The pull of magnets on objects

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Children love to play with magnets! Whether they enjoy acting like a magician who can summon small objects with their magnet or they want to see if they can pull two magnets apart, magnets can be really fun to play with.

A science experiment using magnets allows you to show your child what the term “magnetic” means and what objects are magnetic and not magnetic.

Since children love playing with magnets, this should be a fun experiment to run through with your own child!

How to make the What’s Magnetic? science experiment

Supplies you will need

For the What’s Magnetic? experiment, you’ll need:

Supplies for the What’s Magnetic? experiment

Before you start

I used the magnetic wands you see on the far right of the supplies pictured above, but it is not necessary to do this experiment. I used these because I had them for other experiments, plus since these are stronger magnets, you get a more dramatic effect.

You can just as easily use everyday magnets you can find around the house! For example, the white, circular magnet pictured above is from our babyproofing cabinet locks.


Here is how to do the What’s Magnetic? experiment with your toddler:

Step 1: Add several paper clips to the paper plate

I emptied a bag of 100 paper clips to show the effect, but you do not necessarily have to use that many! Just a few paper clips will do the trick to teach the lesson.

If you do not have paper clips handy, here are a few common household items you could use instead:

  • Binder clips
  • Nuts or bolts
  • Small refrigerator magnets
  • Thumbtacks (just be careful with the sharp tacks and little fingers)
  • Chip clips – some have a small, circular magnet on the back

Be mindful that your paper plate can only hold so much weight, so you want to keep the magnets you place on the plate as light as possible.

Step 2: Use your magnet to manipulate the paper clips from under the plate

Holding the paper plate up, use your magnet underneath the plate to move the paper clips around.

If you are using different magnets, test out their strength by seeing how many paper clips follow when you move your magnet underneath the plate.

The magnetic wands were the strongest magnet I used, so the effect was much more dramatic than using a simple kitchen magnet.

Step 3: Test out non-magnetic items

Is everything magnetic?

Test out items that do not have magnetic metals (iron, nickel, and steel are a few). In this case, I used pom-poms alongside the paper clips.

Conduct the same test, where you lift up the plate and move your magnet underneath the plate. The paper clips will continue to move around the plate, but the non-magnetic items (the pom-poms) only move if the paper clips push them.

Get your preschooler involved: Go on a hunt around the house to find objects that are magnetic! Have your toddler go find light objects to test out.

The science behind the What’s Magnetic? experiment

In the What’s Magnetic? science experiment, we are teaching what the term “magnetic” means and what is magnetic and what is not.

How it works

A magnet is, simply put, something that generates a magnetic field. In most elements, electrons exist in pairs, spinning in opposite directions and essentially canceling out the magnetic field. In some elements, there are unpaired electrons that create a magnetic field. That magnetic field allows them to react to a magnet.

Iron, cobalt, and nickel are examples of elements that can react to metal.

We can find magnets in nature (called Lodestones) and magnets that are manmade. The majority of magnets we see today are manmade.

In fact, there are lots of objects in your home that use magnets beyond the simple refrigerator magnets:

  • Speakers
  • The vacuum cleaner
  • Debit cards
  • The doorbell
  • Computers
  • Coffee maker
  • Blender

How are magnets made?

The manmade version is a piece of fused and pressed metal. Once it’s time to magnetize this metal, it is placed between the poles of a powerful electromagnet. The electromagnet is energized long enough to align the atoms in the metal to create a magnetic field (remember the unpaired electrons?). This magnetizes the metal, creating a magnet.

You can use this same process to create a temporary magnet at home by simply rubbing a needle or paper clip with a magnet! The exposure to the magnetic field from the magnet aligns the atoms in the paper clip or needle enough to create their own temporary magnetic field.

We use the pom-poms (or anything that is not magnetic) in this experiment to show that not everything is affected by magnets.

FAQ about the What’s Magnetic? experiment

How do you introduce magnetism to preschoolers?

Introducing magnetism to a preschooler is very simple because they likely already have magnets already the house that they enjoy playing with! Use household magnets and toy magnets (think Magna Doodle, alphabet magnets, farm yard animal magnets, etc.) to explain what is going on to cause it to “stick” to metal.

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