Magnets and the importance of knowing what they are and how they are used are important in science and you can help kids to learn these with some experiments and fun projects. Many of us use magnets every day. Toys, televisions, even your fridge use magnets.
A magnet is any material that attracts other materials to it. In general you'll find magnets made of iron or alloy, though they can be made out of copper or other metals as well. We use magnets to manipulate metals in order to get them to do what we want. We use them to help keep doors closed, to keep things in place while upright, to help us find direction (compasses) and for many, many other uses.
One of the first experiments in science classes is about magnets. They help students learn what magnets are and how they are used. They can even learn how to create their own magnets. There are a number of creative ways to share with kids how magnets work. Here are a few fun projects you can do with magnets.
Making a Compass With Magnets
First, you will need a few materials:
A bowl filled with water
A metal pin
Hold one end of a pin in one hand. Take a magnet in your other hand and rub the magnet up from the base. Slide the magnet along the pin to the tip. Release the magnet from the pin when you get to the end.
Don't rub the pin back and forth with the magnet. You just want to rub the pin in one direction.
Do this same movement 30 times or more.
Next, push the pin through the cork evenly so the cork is in the middle of the pin.
Put the pin with the cork in the water filled bowl. (Make sure the bowl isn't made of metal.) The pin should be magnetic enough to point North.
As a bonus experiment, try seeing how strong your new pin magnet is by trying to pick up small metal objects with it, like a paper clip.
Bring the pin magnet in the bowl close to something metal or televisions set and see what happens.
Magnets have a north and south magnetic side. You will notice that if your force two magnets together, they will either attract hard or they won't attract at all.
If you put north and south magnetic sides together, they will attract to one another.
If you put two south sides, or two north sides together, they will not attract to one another, or they will repulse.
For this experiment, you'll discover the force of the attraction or the repulsion of the magnet.
Have two flat magnets, one end will be north, the other will be south.
Slide two opposite ends together. They will instantly attract to one another. North and south poles on the magnet attract one another.
Now try to press two north sides of a magnet together. You might be able to feel as the poles repulse against one another.
Do the same thing with the south sides. Again, you might notice the poles are repulsed by each other.
Place your magnets down on a table. Take one magnet with north side pointing out and scoot it along close to another magnet's north side. You might notice that the magnet on the table actually tries to move away from the one you are holding. In fact, the magnet might try to turn itself around. The south side is attracting your magnet's north side.
Experiment with pushing around the magnets and see if you can create a 'moving magnet train'. Line magnets up so south sides meet south and north sides meet north. Push the back magnet and watch all the other magnets leap forward. See how many magnets you can get to push other magnets.
Floating Magnet Trick
For this trick, you will need 5 to 8 donut shaped magnets (magnets with a hole in the center and one wooden rod small enough to fit through the magnet, it is preferable if it has a base to it so it can stand up, also made of wood.
First, you need to determine the magnetic forces of the donut magnets and which side is north or south. Remember, polar opposites attract.
For this experiment, you'll want to put three or four magnets along the wooden rod. The placement of the magnets is important. Place all of the magnets with south at the bottom, so when you layer the magnets, the north part of the bottom magnet will attract the south magnet you place on top of it, and the very top of the pile will have a north magnet.
Next, with the next magnet, place the magnet using the north end down. You won't be able to attract it to the north below, so it will continue to 'hover' over the magnets.
You can continue the hovering by placing another magnet on top but make sure the new magnet is south side down. This new magnet will also hover.
This simple trick requires one magnet attached to something like a metal bracket, hanging over a table or tall surface. It also requires one paperclip tied to a piece of string.
Bring the paperclip toward the magnet. The attraction will make the paperclip stick to the magnet.
Measure how far away the clip has to be before the magnet loses its effect by pulling the paperclip away from the magnet using the string.
Bonus: Keep the paperclip flying tying off the string just long enough for the paper clip to 'fly' and not quite reach the magnet.
For an added experiment, hang paper clips off of each other off of the magnet. The magnetic field can have paperclips connect to each other. So see how many paper clips can hang in a line off of the magnet before they are out of range of the magnet and fall off.