Special Events

How It Works: Magnets

This was the first program in our new series called How It Works. Each month we’re going to explore a science or history topic with activities, books, and games. The programs are intended to be STE(A)M programs but aren’t explicitly advertised as such.

Since this program was on Valentine’s Day I thought magnets would be a fun theme since they “attract” (or repel!) each other.

First we read Magnets Push, Magnets Pull by Mark Weakland.


This book is a great summary of magnets, how they work, and how they’re used in everyday life. Then we discussed what we learned using this poster:

magnet poster.jpg

I got the idea on Pinterest here. I loved that the poster summarized what we were learning so perfectly.

Afterwards, the kids experimented at the stations I set up. Our first station tested which everyday objects are magnetic and which aren’t.

is it magnetic table.jpg

Our program was for kids in grades K-4 so I wanted to find a worksheet that could be used by many ages. I found this one here and it worked perfectly. I gathered everything we needed in the two baskets above and magnets were in the green container. Here’s the sign I posted above the station:

is it magnetic sign.jpg

I wanted to explain to the kids why each experiment worked.

Next we had a runaway train maze:

runaway train maze.jpg

Here’s the sign for this station:

runaway train maze sign.jpg

A, our other children’s librarian, created and taped this maze down with masking tape and it came out awesome! We were originally going to use cars from the dollar store for a “getaway car” maze (as they did here) but I couldn’t find bar magnets in enough time to allow for the opposite poles needed to guide the car. So we ended up using trains from the train table and magnets we had on hand. We also set out the foam blocks in case anyone wanted to build arches (as seen in the picture above) or road blocks.

Of course, the boys ended up building a city with foam blocks and using a magnetic slime “bomb” to bomb the city …

Which brings me to our next station: Magnetic Slime:

magnetic slime table.jpg

Making magnetic slime is an option but it was much cheaper to buy the slime and let the kids have more time to play with it. Also, it looked like it might be toxic to breathe in and touch while it’s mixing and I didn’t want to mess with masks and messy hands. I bought this one from Amazon.

Here’s the sign for the station:

magnetic slime sign.jpg

I purchased really strong magnets on Amazon as well so the kids could move the slime better. They were a little too strong. All four eventually got stuck together (I think with slime mixed in) and they are now IMPOSSIBLE to pull apart. So if we ever have another magnet program we’ll just have to use all four as one super strong magnet!

Our next station:

magic cup table.jpg

magic cup sign.jpg

Not as exciting as the other stations but the kids seemed to enjoy the challenge of getting the paper clip out. And I added a last minute addition to the station: cut up pipe cleaners in a soda bottle with another strong magnet. You could make the pipe cleaners dance through the bottle which was a fun effect.

And our last (somewhat disappointing) station:

magnetic cereal table.jpg

magnetic cereal sign.jpg

Apparently there are teeny, tiny bits of iron in dry cereal and if you run a really strong magnet over the cereal, the little metal bits are supposed to be pulled out. I found the idea here. We just couldn’t get it to work. I used different cereals than the ones in the linked experiment so maybe that was part of the problem. In hindsight, we should have used the giant magnet from the slime table. But that’s part of experimenting. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t!

This program required a lot of planning and was a bit expensive. And we only got 24 participants. (We think Valentine’s Day might have kept some families away.) However, I think next month’s program (How It Works: Fairy Tales & Fables) will be much easier/cheaper!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s