Magnets are great toys and tools for children to learn from while playing with them. They hold a lot of information that, when presented to children, may seem fun, but also they have this magical sense to themas things stick to them. As fun as they are, magnets can also be difficult to explain when the children ask the why and how of magnets while they are using them. Children know what magnets are, that they stick to some things and don't stick to other things. With that as a start, it's best for children to learn on their own through playing and experimenting with magnets to learn how they work. There are fun ways to help encourage the interest that the children have with magnets to make them understand more about how they work in a child-friendly way.
Four children from the Squares class had come into the STEAM room and looked around to see what they wanted to do. One child discovered the basket of items with magnets and brought it over to the table. The other children were interested in all the different things in the basket and jars. There were plenty of magnet sticks for the children accompanied by lots of other metal objects, such as paper-clips, metal balls, small colored discs and other small magnetic objects. I let the children get a chance to play uninterrupted by me so they could explore and experiment with the magnets.
After about a good 10 - 15 mins of them playing with the magnets I asked them,
"Why do these things stick to the magnets?"
With confidence the children said because they are magnets. They understand that magnets attract to things but how can we get them to understand what it is that they are attracting to? I brought over a small wooden golf-tee and asked the children what is was made of. One child took it while the others looked and they realized right away that it was a wooden tee. I asked them if that wood can stick to the magnet. They tried and could see right away that the magnet was not attracted and would not stick to wood. I then picked up one of the small metal ball and asked them to tell me what it was made of. They grabbed one and felt it and one girl said it was made of metal. They put it up to the magnet and saw that it attracted to the magnet. I picked up the wood golf tee and showed them and reinforced this lesson to them by asking,
"Does wood stick to magnets?"
With that they knew wood doesn't stick because they just used the metal ball to stick on the magnet. One of the children then replied back with,
"Wood doesn't stick. Metal sticks to magnets."
I told the children we should try something with their new found knowledge that magnets are attracted to metal. We cleaned up the small toys and put them away. I proposed an idea to go on a metal hunt and to use their magnets to find what was metal inside the classroom. The children were ecstatic and immediately started looking and searching for metal surfaces for their magnets to be attracted too. They noticed the screws by the tool box were metal and stuck and also the big white magnifying light was metal. They noticed the air conditioner was metal too. They were searching everything and touching magnet sticks to every surface they could find in the room. I felt that maybe we shouldn't be limited to just the room but walk around the school so they could get an idea that metal wasn't just limited to inside the class. I asked them if we should check outside the class too and right away we were out the door exploring.
Children were checking the walls, bulletin board banners, the floor seeing what their magnets were going to be attracted to. One child checked the drying rack and noticed that the blue part was metal. Another child was checking the doors to the classes as we walked down the hall and found out the trim around the door was metal because her magnet stuck to it. At this time I asked them a question to see their understanding about metal:
"How do we know when something is metal? How does metal look or feel?"
The children touched the door frame where their magnets stuck to and felt that it was cold. All the kids noticed that metal objects can be cold. They started using their sense of touch to feel around for what felt cold and then they would test their magnet instead of just touching their magnet to everything first. We walked around more and a child said this feels cold as we approached a handicapped elevator ramp. After his statement he noticed his magnet stuck to the metal wall. The children walked around feeling and exploring a lot of different places and discovering lot of different metal objects.
The time was drawing near for them to return back to their class, but we took a moment to reflect on what we had done. We talked again about how magnets attract and stick to metal objects, and that metal objects feel cold when you touch them. With those two very basic observations, the children were fueled with energy and excitement to explore with magnets throughout their school. They got a hands- on, visual, and interactive experience on the workings of magnets. These experiences stayed with them -- just two weeks after we had done this I went to help the Squares out for the day and one of the girls that came into the STEAM room for that exploring had a magnet stick in her hand. She took a Magna-Tile and held it in front of me and said,
"Magnets stick to metal."