Because planning a program doesn't just take 5 minutes


For this program, we borrowed a magnet kit from a nearby library.  As far as I can tell, the materials are all from Lakeshore Learning, although I don’t see them currently packaged together, so I’m not sure if they bought it as a set or as individual items.  If I were to purchase some myself (and I am tempted, because now I want to do a few preschool magnet activities), I would go with the magnetic wands and the stack and match magnetic rings.  I also brought in a pile of Magformers from home.

When the kids came in, they chose a table and jumped right in.  When the program officially started, we tried to describe all of the tables, but they weren’t really listening.  I might skip that bit in the future.  This particular session was mostly about exploration and the materials were more or less self-explanatory.  We rotated tables every 10 minutes through the 45-minute session.  Each table provided plenty to do for the full 10 minutes, and most of the kids would have been happy to stay longer at each table.  One staff member stayed at Table 1 the whole time, and the other rotated between the other 3 tables (mostly staying with a fairly rambunctious group of boys who needed a little help staying on task).  We had planned to do a “what did you learn?” recap at the end, but the energy level was a little bit high, so we just had them straighten their last table and head out.

Table 1: General Exploration

Table 1 setup

At one end of the table we had a variety of magnet types, iron filing discovery disks, paper clips, and washers.  We gave a short list of questions to exolore:

  • Which magnet is the strongest?  How can you tell?
  • Using the different magnets, how many paper clips can you pick up at one time?
  • Using the different magnets, how many washers can you pick up at one time?
  • Use a magnet to magnetize a paper clip – how many other paper clips can it pick up?

MagneticHairAt the other end of the table was Magnet Man – kids could make a face on a piece of scrap paper and wrap it around a bar magnet.  Dip it into a bucket of cut up pipe cleaner bits, and voila!  A fabulous hairdo.  This is actually the project that inspired us to try magnets as a topic for Hands-On Science to begin with.  We were browsing around for fun ideas, and my colleague found several different ideas on Pinterest involving wand magnets and cut up bits of pipe cleaner in a water bottle.  Our favorite (which I can’t find at the moment; if I find it later, I’ll add a link) had a face drawn on the bottle and used the wand to put hair on the face.  We tried this in a variety of different sizes and shapes of bottles and weren’t really satisfied with it, so we ended up just putting the face directly onto the magnet.  This was unbelievably fun – staff had fun playing with it, and most of the kids spent all of their time at this table making different faces and hairdos.

For the K-2 group, we eliminated Table 4 and split this one into two tables.  One was a face-making table.  The older kids had some trouble with wrapping and taping the faces, so we pre-wrapped the paper and then let the kids put it on their bar magnet to draw faces and add hair.  It was close to Halloween, so a few of them made ghosty/ghouly faces.  We also gave them blank circles to put under the iron filing discovery disks.  They drew faces or other designs on those and then used the magnets to move the iron filings around on top of their drawings.  This was less popular; some of them looked at the iron filings a little bit, but most of them spent the entire 10 minutes seeing how much hair they could get to stick to their wands.  It made a huge mess, but it was incredibly easy to clean up – just wave the magnetic wand over the clippings, and the job is done!  The second table had a variety of magnets, paper clips, and washers, so the kids could work on the questions outlined above.

Table 2 MagformersTable 2: Magformers

For this table, I brought in a bucket of Magformers from home and the kids made all kinds of fun stuff: buildings, cars, a Ferris wheel…  Some worked together and some worked separately, but the kids at this table were consistently focused.  In fact, the one time I really got to make the rounds of the other tables was when my highly energetic group hit this table.  Of all the magnetic building toys I’ve tried, this is my favorite – the magnets are aligned so that the pieces match up well in any orientation, and there’s a nice assortment of colors, shapes, and sizes.

Table 3: Magnetic Ring Stacking

Table 3 Magnetic RingsThis was my favorite table.  There was a formal activity – try to make your rings match the patterns on the cards and then create your own patterns and pattern cards – but for the most part, the kids just goofed around with the materials and had a great time.  It is just so fun to watch the magnets float!

Many of the groups explored similar questions, and I tried to pop in and propose some quick Table 3 Floating Magnetsquestions to explore if the kids seemed stuck on ideas.  Most of them knew about polarity, but seeing – and feeling- it in action was fun.  I got many of them to try to put opposite poles together on the table – the magnet on the bottom would just scoot away from the magnet on the top.  I talked with them about how, on the stick, the magnets could not move to the side to get away from each other and had to, instead, move up.  When several magnets or groups of magnets were separated, you could push down on the whole stack and get a cool spring effect, where gravity would be pushing the rings down and the magnetic repulsion would be pushing them up, so they would be bouncing up and down for a bit before settling back into some static position.  All of the groups discovered that you could use this bouncing to pop magnets off the top of the stick, and many of the kids experimented quite a bit with having heavier groups of magnets on the top vs. on the bottom and how that changed the way the magnets bounced.

Table 4: Magnetic Golf

Table4OrigSetupWe had planned to have the kids move the magnetic balls from one side of the table to the other using the magnetic wands, without touching the balls.  We thought that if it was too easy, they could use the cups to make a little obstacle course to maneuver around.  We were able to move the ball down the table by using two wands around the balls or a wand above the table and one below the table, but it was tricky.  In the setup shown here, the washers the balls are sitting on are too close to the ends of the table – the metal legs of the table were interfering with the magnets.  We scooted them closer to the middle of the table before the program started, and started the balls in cups instead of in washers to reduce the difficulty of getting them started.  Still, it was pretty difficult, even without any obstacles.  The plastic table turned out to have a surprising amount of metal inside.  In the end, we gave them multiple magnetic balls and wands and let them play around with moving the balls in different ways, without particular start and end points.  On a different table surface, this still might have been really fun, but eliminated it for the K-2 group and focused more on the Table 1 activities, as described above.

Overall, this was an amazingly fun program, and has me excited about doing some magnet activities with preschoolers as well.


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