Magnets fascinate children because of the interesting properties they contain. To children, the forces they possess--pushing and pulling on each other, sticking to some objects but not to others--provide endless questions to ponder. Iron-rich metals such as the ones that make up most permanent magnets contain like- oriented electrons that together create the magnetic field. At first children may rather play with the magnets than learn. However, with fun activities they will learn through playing.
For children, learning about magnets must include some time to explore their properties and the way that they react, or do not react, to materials of all sorts. Acquire magnets of all types. Typical elementary science-kit materials such as bar and horseshoe magnets provide a start. To these add common refrigerator magnets, craft-tape or disc magnets, "bingo wand" magnets and extra-strong key-hiding or other strong magnets.
With the magnets, provide each group of children a container full metal and non-metal objects for experimentation and exploration. Be sure to add some metal objects to which magnets do not stick such as coins, jewellery and keys to prompt curiosity and questions. Have children create a simple chart that lists in words or pictures, the magnetic objects and the non-magnetic objects.
While their curiosity remains high from the exploration sessions, begin to explain the science behind the strange magnetic properties they witnessed. Explain that magnets come from natural earth materials and have been around for thousands of years. Teach them that only certain earth materials contain the magnetic property and that our entire planet has a magnetic force. Magnets also share another earth quality because they both have a north and south pole.
Ask children to explain the kinds of objects the magnets stuck to in the exploration activity. Lead them to the understanding that magnets stick only to objects made of materials such as nickel, iron and steel. Explain that magnets also stick to each other but only in a special way. Teach them that the opposite poles attract but the like poles push away from each other. Also, tell them that in their experiments, they will learn that magnets can share their magnetic quality and give it to something else.
Having had exploration time and explanations about the properties of magnets, have children complete experiments for further learning about the magnets. Along with a variety of magnet types, paper clips and sheets of different weights of paper, you need bar magnets with north and south poles for the experiments.
Experiments include using the bar magnets to learn about the north and south poles. Have them locate the opposite poles and the like-poles by figuring out which poles attract and which repel each other. Have them rub a magnet on a paper clip to perform an experiment and see if they can turn a paper clip into a magnet. Test the paper clip on known magnetic objects.
In another experiment, use magnets of different types to figure out if all magnets have the same strength. Determine which magnets will pick up the most paper clips at one time by making paper clip chains and trying to pick up as long a chain as possible. The final experiment tests magnets to see if they work through other objects. Place varying weights of paper and cardboard between a magnet and a paper clip to see if the paper clip still sticks to the magnet.