Scientific Method: Magnets

In our Family Inventors’ Lab, we introduce the scientific method at the start of the quarter in our What is a Scientist unit. We even teach them a song about the scientific method, and share this Scientific Method Poster to show the steps. We re-visit that discussion when we talk about Magnets and about Sinking and Floating, since those topics offer an easy way to practice over and over the steps of forming a hypothesis and testing that hypothesis.

Prepare a collection of items for your child to test. Samples: a stainless steel spoon, a plastic spoon and a wooden spoon; a steel can and an aluminum can, a pencil and a pen, a paper clip, binder clip, rubber band; metal washers, coins, plastic and wood toys, metal toy cars, wood toy trains with magnet connectors, and more. For younger children, age 3 – 4, only include magnetic metals, so they can get the basic answer that magnets stick to metal. For older children, include other metals, like aluminum cans and coins to stretch that assumption to understanding magnets stick to some metals and not others.

Method for 3 – 4 year olds: Just let them play and explore. What items stick to the magnet? Which items don’t stick? You can talk out loud about patterns you notice – “hmmm, that’s interesting. It didn’t stick to any of the wood items, but it stuck to all the metal items… ” Ask musing questions – not direct questions that insist they give you a correct answer. More like: “hmmm… I wonder if the magnet will stick to this binder clip? Any guesses?”

Method for 5 and up: Show them an object. Ask them whether they think the magnet will stick to it. Ask they why they think that… you’re attempting to tease out any prior knowledge they have. Ask them to make a prediction – will the magnet stick? Then test it. Were they right? Wrong? Have they learned something new about what is and what is not magnetic? As they test the items, they can put all the magnetic items in one stack and all the non-magnetic items in another stack. (You could make a sorting mat like the one from prekinders shown at the top of this post.) When you’re done, encourage them to look at each stack and see what they can observe about their results which might give them some more ideas about what magnets will and will not stick to. (e.g. everything in one pile is metal, the things in the other pile are metal or wood or plastic.)

You can then challenge them to test other items in the house to see if their new theories apply. (You may want to discourage them from using magnets on all your electronics… )

For older children who write, you could create a worksheet like this for them to take notes on. In the comments field, they can write any notes about their observations. “Wood isn’t magnetic” or “why won’t a magnet stick to this metal can???”

 _____ magnetic _____ not magnetic_____ magnetic _____ not magnetic 

Click here for lots more Magnets experiments.

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