Challenge the children to sort magnetic and non-magnetic materials.
Early Learning Goal links
- Mathematics ELG: Numerical Patterns
- Understanding the World ELG: Past and Present
- Understanding the World ELG: People, Culture and Communities
- Understanding the World ELG: The Natural World
Download the progression document which includes statements from Development Matters (birth to age five) and the relevant ELGs in full for the magnetic or non-magnetic provocation here.
STEM vocabulary to introduce
Magnet, magnetic, not magnetic, pull, stick, attract, push, away, repel, material, metal, wood, plastic, fabric, paper, glass etc
What to do
Put out the selection of materials you are going to use, along with the magnets, sorting trays and labels. You might want to use the magnetic or non-magnetic provocation and show the children the magnet scientist poster.
Tell the children that they are going to be magnet engineers and will be curious about which objects are magnetic and which are not. Remind the children that magnetic means an object or material is attracted (or sticks) to a magnet, and non-magnetic means it won’t.
Tell the children they will be observant like magnet engineers and test which objects are magnetic and which are non-magnetic.
Challenge the children to sort the objects into groups of magnetic and non-magnetic materials.
Questions to ask to support and extend learning
- Which objects are magnetic?
- How can you tell?
- Which objects are non-magnetic?
- How can you tell?
- Which material do you think this object is made from?
- Are all objects made from metal magnetic?
- Are all objects made from wood/plastic/paper etc non-magnetic?
- How can we test this?
- Do any objects have parts that are magnetic and parts that are not magnetic?
- Are some materials more magnetic than others? How can you tell?
Other things to try
You could ask the children to select their own objects from around the classroom and sort them into magnetic and non-magnetic.
Remember to refer to the children as magnet engineers and praise them for using the attributes. You could say things like:
“You have been observant like a magnet engineer and found all of the magnetic objects…”
The science of magnets
We have put together some useful information about the science of magnets to accompany this activity. Don’t worry, this is for your information only and to help you answer any questions children may have. We don’t expect you to explain this to the children in your setting!
What are magnets?
A magnet is an object that produces an invisible area of magnetism all around it called magnetic field (the area around a magnet that has magnetic force). The magnets we use in school are permanent magnets. This means the magnetic field they produce is there all of the time and cannot be turned off. Magnets can only be made from magnetic metals. Magnets repel and attract other magnets, and attract magnetic substances.
Which materials are magnetic?
Only metals are magnetic, but not all metals! Iron, nickel and cobalt are the only pure metals that are magnetic and can be turned into a permanent magnet. Steel is an alloy of iron and so is magnet and can be made into a magnet. Every substance is made up of tiny units called atoms. Each atom has electrons, particles that carry electric charges. Electrons circle the nucleus (core) generating a electric current and causing each electron to become a magnet. In most substances, equal numbers of electrons spin in opposite directions, cancelling out their magnetism. In iron, cobalt, and nickel, most of the electrons spin in the same direction and are strongly magnetised. These substances can become magnets if they enter the magnetic field of an existing magnet.
What is magnetism?
Magnetism is the force applied by magnets when they attract or repel each other. Magnetism is caused by the movement of electric charges. In a magnet, the north-seeking poles of the atoms in the magnet line up in the same direction. The force generated by the aligned atoms creates two poles in a magnet, a north and south pole. The magnetic force or charge in a magnet flows from the north pole to the south pole. This creates a magnetic field around a magnet. The magnetic fields created by magnets fill a space around them where magnet forces work to attract or repel magnetic materials.
What you’ll need
- Sorting trays, hoops or containers
- A selection of magnetic and non-magnetic materials
- Sorting labels (print outs here or make your own)
- Magnetic or non-magnetic provocation
- The magnet engineer poster
- 5 – 10 minutes or so for the activity.