Your child will create a painting as they investigate and describe how magnets work.
Learning Area(s): Science; Sensory and Art
- 3 different magnets, like a fridge magnet, an alphabet magnet, and a magnetic clip
- box or box lid with short sides (like a shoe box)
- pieces of white paper cut smaller than the size of the box
- assorted colors of washable paint
- paperclip, screw, or other small piece of metal
- journal, notebook, or a few sheets of paper stapled together
Before the activity, tape the paper to the bottom of the inside of the box and put a paperclip on top of the paper. Test each magnet by moving it along the bottom of the outside of the box to make sure the clip moves easily. If the magnet doesn’t move the paperclip, try using a smaller paperclip, a thinner box, or thinner paper.
Begin by discussing the concept of magnetism. You can say, “Magnets attract some kinds of metal. If the magnet is strong enough, it can pull the metal to it. This force is called attraction.” Take the paperclip out of the box and place it on a flat surface. “Let’s explore the force of attraction by holding one magnet at a time near the paperclip to see if the magnet can pull or attract the paperclip.” Encourage your child to tell you about what they see and feel happening as they try each magnet.
“What are some things you can do with magnets?” Discuss.
Place the paints and three magnets alongside the box with the paperclip on the paper inside the box.“ How could we use only these materials to make a piece of artwork?” Discuss how using the force of attraction, the magnet, and paperclip can work together to move a few drops of paint on the paper.
- Squeeze three small droplets (smaller than a pea) of one paint color near the top of the paper to form a row of droplets, with each droplet about two inches apart.
- “If you slide a magnet along the bottom of the box, which of the three magnets do you think is strong enough to pull or attract the paperclip and move it through the row of paint droplets?” Encourage your child to explain their answer.
- Have your child hold the first magnet under the box and gently move it in a line through each paint drop in the row.
- Encourage your child to observe the force of magnetic attraction at work as they slide the magnet under the box. Ask your child questions like:
- “What is the magnet doing to make the paint move?”
- “What other small metal objects could you use instead of a paperclip?”
- “How does moving the paint feel or look different from using a paintbrush?”
- “What would make moving the paint easier or harder? How would that make it easier or harder?”
- Have your child write (or dictate as you write) how the paperclip moved through the paint as you or your child clean the paperclip or get out another one.
Repeat these steps by making another row of paint droplets below the first row, using a different color of paint and a different magnet for each row. See Tips for adding more paint.
Ask, “Which magnet made the paperclip move through the paint most easily? Why do you think that happened?” After your child has concluded and explained which magnet moved the paperclip and paint the best, invite them to continue adding drops of paint and use the strongest magnet to move the paint in all directions to create a work of art.
When your child has finished their piece of art, have them write (or dictate as you write) the results about which magnet worked best. Encourage them to use some of the science words they learned, like force, pull, attract, magnetic, etc. They can repeat the art activity with any combination of magnets or magnetic objects!
Consider extending this activity to another day by having your child consider how the results of this activity might be different if they used a different type of paint, paperclip, or paper. Try it out!
- If you use thin paper like printer paper or notebook paper, start with small drops of paint and add more if the paperclip continues to move easily through the paint. As the paper becomes saturated and the clip becomes coated with paint, it may be harder to move the clip with the magnet. If you use slightly thicker paper, you can use a bit more paint.
- You might like to explore your home to show your child examples of magnets at work like refrigerator magnets, magnetic latches on cabinets or drawers, magnetic bumper stickers or signs, or magnetic hooks.
- Discuss how some magnetic latches cannot be seen, like those on the inside of a refrigerator or freezer door. To locate these door magnets, run a paperclip along the corners of the inside door seal. The paper clip will “stick” to the area of the seal where the magnets are located.
- To learn more about magnetism, review these additional resources:
- Magnet Max by Monica Lozano Hughes
- All Aboard Science Reader: Magnets by Anne Schreiber
- Magnets Push, Magnets Pull by David A. Adler
- Magnets: Pulling Together, Pushing Apart by Natalie M. Rosinsky
- What Magnets Can Do by Allan Fowler