Be a Magnet Detective!

In this lesson, children will be magnet detectives as they investigate and experiment with magnetic forces.

Content Area:

Force and Motion

Learning Goals:

This lesson will help toddlers and preschoolers meet the following educational standards:

  • Demonstrate curiosity about the world and begin to use the practices of science and engineering to answer questions and solve problems
  • Explore concepts and information about the physical, earth and life sciences
  • Understand important connections and understandings in science and engineering

Learning Targets:

After this lesson, toddlers and preschoolers should be more proficient at:

  • Developing foundational skills in the use of scientific practices such as observing, asking questions, solving problems and drawing conclusions
  • Exploring the physical properties of objects
  • Exploring the concepts of force and motion
  • Using tools and technology to assist with scientific and engineering investigations
  • Expressing wonder and curiosity about their world by asking questions and solving problems
  • Carrying out simple investigations
  • Exploring the effect of force on objects in the early childhood environment
  • Generating explanations and communicating ideas and/or conclusions about their investigations

Be a Magnet Detective!

Lesson plan for toddlers/preschoolers

Step 1: Gather materials.

  • Horseshoe magnets or magnetic wands
  • A tray or table full of items that may or may not be attracted to magnets (such as cotton balls, cork, crayons, feathers, modeling clay, nails, paper clips, pennies, rocks or stones, rubber bands or wooden blocks)

Note: Small parts pose a choking hazard and are not appropriate for children age five or under. Be sure to choose lesson materials that meet safety requirements.

Step 2: Introduce activity.

  1. Introduce the book, Magnet Max, by Monica Lozano Hughes.
  2. When reading the book, pay particular attention to new vocabulary words.
  3. Try using hand gestures to indicate attracting (pulling together) and repelling (pushing away) and ask the children to imitate you. Then ask the children to stand while you “push and pull” them with the force of your hand.
  4. Invite the children to become magnet detectives and investigate magnetic forces with their horseshoe magnets and/or magnetic wands.

Step 3: Engage children in lesson activities.

  • Fill a tray or table with the materials to be tested for magnetism.
  • Read the book, Magnet Max.
  • Instruct the children to predict which objects will be attracted to the magnets and then use their magnets to test out their predictions.
  • Continue to experiment with the magnets and various objects.
  • Classify and categorize the objects into two piles: Objects that are attracted to the magnets and objects that are not.
  • Ask: “What do the objects that are attracted to the magnets have in common?”
  • When the children determine that the objects that are attracted to magnets are all made of metal, confirm their conclusion by saying: “Magnets are pieces of metal that have the power to attract other pieces of metal.”
  • Then say: “I wonder if magnets are attracted to everything made of metal. Let’s find out.”
  • Have the children test out objects made of different metals such as iron, nickel, aluminum, brass and copper. Do not use U.S. coins for this experiment because U.S. coins are metal “sandwiches” (pennies are copper-plated zinc and nickels are a 75% copper/25% nickel alloy).
  • Then tell the children to separate the metal objects into two piles: magnetic metal objects and non-magnetic metal objects. Ask: “Which metals are magnetic?”
  • Say: “Every magnet is made of metal, but not all metals are magnetic.”

Step 4: Vocabulary.

  • Attract: To pull together
  • Magnet: A piece of metal that has the power to attract (pull close) or repel (push away) metal objects made of magnetic materials such as iron, cobalt and nickel
  • Repel: To push away

Early Science Glossary

Step 5: Adapt lesson for toddlers or preschoolers.

Adapt Lesson for Toddlers
Toddlers may:
  • Use wand magnets or large horseshoe magnets for safety
  • Test the magnetism of larger items (to avoid choking or other safety hazards)
Child care providers may:
  • Bury magnetic objects in a sensory table and encourage the children to use their magnetic wands or horseshoe magnets to hunt for “buried treasure”
  • Use larger magnets and larger magnetic and non-magnetic objects to avoid choking or other safety hazards
Adapt Lesson for Preschoolers
Preschoolers may:
  • Carry a magnet around the classroom or outside in the schoolyard to test out the magnetic fields of other objects
  • Notice that the magnets have a north pole and a south pole (this is an indication that the child may be able to understand and experiment with the concept that opposite poles attract and like poles repel)
Child care providers may:
  • Encourage older children to hold two magnets together at different distances to feel their force, then flip over one of the magnets to see how the force changes
  • Bury magnetic objects in sand and encourage the children to hunt for them with their magnets (use large magnets and large objects for safety reasons)

Suggested Books

  • Magnet Max by Monica Lozano Hughes
  • Magnets: Pulling Together, Pushing Apart (Amazing Science) by Natalie Myra Rosinsky (author) and Sheree Boyd (illustrator)
  • Magnets Push, Magnets Pull by David A. Adler​ (author) and Anna Raff (illustrator)
  • What Magnets Can Do by Allan Fowler
  • What Makes a Magnet? by Franklyn M. Branley (author) and True Kelley (illustrator)

Music and Movement

Outdoor Connections

  • Take the wand magnets outside and encourage the children to investigate the magnetic forces in the schoolyard or on the playground. Ask the children if their magnets are attracted to the slide, swings, fence, sand, sidewalk, plants, etc.

Web Resources

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