Magnets Background Information for Teachers and Parents

Grade Levels: K-3

This page contains information to support educators and families in teaching K-3 students about magnets. The information is designed to complement the BrainPOP Jr. movie Magnets. It explains the type of content covered in the movie, provides ideas for how teachers and parents can develop related understandings, and suggests how other BrainPOP Jr. resources can be used to scaffold and extend student learning.

Experimenting with magnets is a fun way for children to explore the world around them while developing inquiry and critical-thinking skills. We recommend screening the Scientific Method movie, during which Annie and Moby follow the Scientific Method to conduct an experiment on magnets. Remind children that magnets attract objects made with iron, and they have two poles, a north pole and a south pole. The opposite poles of magnets will attract each other, while the like poles will repel. Magnets can pull through gases, like air, but some can also pull through solids and liquids. We recommend using plenty of hands-on activities with magnets to help children explore the properties of magnets and experiment with magnetic fields.

Magnets attract, or pull, objects made with iron. Invite children to use magnets to attract different objects. Paper clips, scissors, screws, nuts, and bolts are just a few common everyday objects that are magnetic. Guide children to understand that a magnet will not attract paper, rubber, wood, or plastic. Some children believe that any kind of metal is magnetic. Remind them that aluminum cans are metal, but do not contain iron. Therefore they are not magnetic. Steel is a metal that is made with iron, so steel objects like tools and silverware are usually magnetic.

Magnets are made of metals containing iron, cobalt, nickel, or steel that have been exposed to a magnetic field, which rearranges the metal’s molecules in a north-south pattern. This polarization results in the metal being magnetized. Children should know that magnets have two poles, a north pole and a south pole. The pole is where the pull of the magnet is the strongest. Earth’s liquid iron core helps our planet act like a gigantic magnet. The area near Earth’s geographical North Pole and South Pole are where our planet’s magnetic pulling force is strongest. Help children realize that a compass needle is a rotating magnet that is always attracted to Earth’s North Pole.

Even though magnets can come in different shapes, strengths, and sizes, they all have a north and south pole. In fact, if you cut a magnet in half, you will still get two different poles. On a round magnet, one side is the north pole while the other side is the south pole. Remind children that when opposite poles are next to each other, they will attract. When like poles are near each other, they will repel, or push away from each other. You may want to demonstrate this concept using two magnets, and let students experiment with different shaped magnets to discover the north and south poles.

Magnets can pull through gases, like air, but they can also pull through solids and even liquids, depending on the strength of the magnet. A magnetic field is the area around the magnet where it can attract or repel things. A magnet will affect a magnetic object only when it enters its magnetic field. This is why a small magnet on one side of the room will not attract things on another side. The strength of a magnet is stronger as you get closer to it, and likewise its strength is weaker as you are farther away. Have children experiment with different shapes, sizes, and strengths of magnets to explore these magnetic fields.

Encourage children to think about how they use magnets, how they work, and why they are useful. Provide many hands-on activities for children to explore different sizes and strengths of magnets. Have them come up with questions about magnets and create their own experiments to find the answers to their questions and develop science inquiry skills.