There’s more to magnets than just sticking things together.
Magnets offer a wealth of opportunities for kids to explore the world, exercise their imagination, and uncover their creativity.
In our list of twelve magnetic activities, you’ll find something for kids of all ages, interests, and abilities. Plus, we share the benefits of magnetic play and add top safety tips from the experts.
Magnetic Activities for Kids
This list of activities includes options for scientific investigation, literacy practice, artistic expression, and physical development.
These activities have two things in common: they involve magnets, and they’re fun.
What Does It Do?
Recommended Age Range: 18 months and up (with close supervision).
- Magnetic wand
- A variety of household objects, some magnetic, some not
- Put the objects on the table, and give your child the magnetic wand.
- Have them slowly wave the wand over the objects.
- Put all of the objects that stick to the wand in one pile.
- Ask your child how the magnetic items are the same as each other and different from the things that didn’t stick.
This activity is suitable for developing hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills.
Recommended Age Range: 2 to 5 years
- Paint sample cards from the DIY store
- Googly eyes
- Safety pins
- Wooden spoon
- Cut fish shapes out of the paint sample cards.
- Glue an eye on the color side and a safety pin on the back.
- Tie one end of the twine to the magnet and the other to your wooden spoon.
- Place your fish on the table or floor and let your child go fishing.
Recommended Age Range: 3 to 6 years
- Lay out a roadway using the road play tape.
- Tape a rectangular magnet to the top of a vehicle.
- Use the magnetic wand to make the vehicle move.
This activity provides an opportunity to discover how magnets repel as well as attract each other. Show your child how holding the wand near one end of the magnet draws the two together, but keeping the wand at the other end pushes them apart.
Creating scrap robots is an excellent way to encourage artistic expression, and using the robots to tell stories stimulates the imagination.
Recommended Age Range: 4 to 6 years
- Clean tin cans
- Various metal objects such as springs, nuts and bolts, bulldog clips, Allen keys, etc.
- Googly eyes
- Flat magnets
- Glue a magnet to each of your metal pieces and the googly eyes.
- Lay all of the pieces on the table or floor.
- Give your child a clean food can to use as a body.
- Encourage your child to create their own robot.
Alphabet Magnets From Clay
Use this activity to promote letter recognition and literacy skills.
Recommended Age Range: 3 years and up
- Air-dry clay
- Sit together, and use the clay to make letters.
- Push a magnet into the back of each letter and leave them to dry.
- Use the letters either on a baking tray or on the fridge to practice creating words.
Reading “Let’s Play” With Magnets
Bringing books to life using magnets can help to foster a love of reading.
Recommended Age Range: 3 to 5 years
- A copy of the book “Let’s Play!” by Hervé Tullet
- Dowel rods
- One-inch wooden circles
- Ceramic magnets
- Poster Board
- Paint 12 wooden circles, four red, four yellow, four blue, to match the circles in the book.
- Glue a magnet to the back of each circle and another to the end of your dowel. Be careful to ensure the magnets on the circles all have the same pole facing upward, and the magnet on the dowel has the opposite pole facing up.
- Re-create a variety of pages from the book by drawing the paths onto pieces of poster board.
- Place your wooden circle on the top of the board. Then move the dowel underneath the board to make the circles move along the path, just as they do in the book.
Recommended Age Range: 6 years up
- 10mm or 5mm LED bulbs
- Ceramic magnets
- CR2032 coin cell batteries
- Electrical tape
- Bend the leads of your LED bulb over a cell battery and tape them in place.
- Place a magnet over the cell battery and cover again with more electrical tape.
- You can then place the lights on any magnetic surface. For example, you can use the lights to recreate constellations on a baking tray, light-up play equipment at night, or give glowing eyes to your magnetic robots.
Coin cell batteries can pose a life-threatening risk if swallowed (1). Do not try this activity if you have children under six in the house. Even with older children, be sure to talk clearly about the danger of swallowing cell batteries, and only proceed with this activity under close supervision.
Recommended Age Range: 4 to 8 years
- Iron powder filings
- 40 ml plastic test tube with lid or stopper
- A cow magnet that fits inside the test tube
- Plastic bottle
- Food grade mineral oil
- Place the magnet in the test tube, top it up with mineral oil, and glue the lid or a stopper to the end.
- Partially fill your plastic bottle with mineral oil.
- Pour roughly 1.5 Tablespoons of iron powder filings into the bottle, and add the test tube.
- Pour in more mineral oil to a point roughly an inch from the bottle’s top.
- Glue the lid onto the bottle.
- Now let the kids shake the bottle and watch the different patterns made by the iron powder filings in the magnetic fields.
Cow magnets are extremely powerful. Do not let your child handle the magnet directly, help to create the bottle, or play with the bottle unsupervised.
Recommended Age Range: 7 years up
- Liquid starch
- White PVA glue
- Iron powder filings or iron oxide
- Cow magnets
- Add 1/4 cup of PVA glue and two tablespoons of iron oxide or powder into a bowl.
- Mix well.
- Add 1/4 cup of liquid starch and mix again.
- If the slime is sticky, add a little more starch. If the slime is stringy, add more glue. If there is excess starch left in the bowl, or if your slime seems to have white streaks on the surface, rinse it under the tap.
- Knead the slime, rinse your hands, and start playing.
The slime will be thin enough for it to draw toward the magnet. If you don’t want to make your own slime, try using Crazy Aarons’s Magnetic Putty, although the consistency will be thicker.
Cow magnets are extremely powerful. Do not allow your child to play with the magnetic slime and magnet when other metallic items are in the immediate area. Only allow your child to use a single cow magnet, and do not allow them to play with the magnetic slime unsupervised.
Make A Compass
Recommended Age Range: 5 years and up
- Large, thick sewing needles
- A magnet
- A cork disc
- Hold a needle and stroke one side of the magnet along the needle roughly 50 times, being sure to go in the same direction.
- Flip the needle and the magnet, and do the same thing with the other end.
- Glue the needle to your cork disc. Be careful to ensure the center of the disc sits precisely halfway down the needle.
- Drop the cork and needle into a bowl of water and watch as it aligns itself north to south.
- Try making multiple compasses and dropping them all in the water, and use a magnetic wand to see how the compasses are affected.
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom Box
This is another excellent literacy activity that will help foster a love of books and teach letter recognition.
Recommended Age Range: 1 to 4 years
- A copy of the board book “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom” by Bill Martin Jr.
- Magnetic letters
- Melissa and Doug 52 Wooden Alphabet Magnets
- 3 Tin cans painted dark brown
- Hammer and nail
- 6 Leaves cut out of tissue or construction paper.
- 1 Drinking straw
- Approximately six brown or tan pompoms
- Use a hammer and nail to make a hole in the top of one tin can.
- Place the straw in the hole.
- Glue the leaves to the top of the straw.
- Glue the pompom “coconuts” to the straw under the leaves.
- Stack the three cans and glue them together to create a tree trunk.
- Read the story together, and recreate the letters’ journey up and down the tree as you go. recreating the action with the letters as you go.
Same Tiles Different Places
Recommended Age Range: 2 years up
- Rather than using magnetic tiles or blocks to build at the table or on the floor, consider using them in the sandbox, bathtub, or outdoors.
- Place the tiles or blocks in socks, gloves, or other small clothing items and use other tiles to make the clothes move.
- Use the tiles with sheets of cardstock to build different structures.
Benefits of Magnetic Activities for Kids
Magnetic activities have a range of benefits beyond the teaching of how magnets work.
Improve Fine Motor Skills
Fine motor skills are essential for activities that adults often take for granted, such as doing up buttons or holding a pencil. Playing with magnets helps to strengthen a child’s fine motor skills by encouraging activities that require small, precise, targeted actions.
Learn Scientific Methods
In addition to learning about the properties of magnets, magnetic play can help teach about the scientific method of identifying known facts, wondering what will happen when you carry out a particular action, and experimenting to see if your hypothesis is correct.
We are born inherently curious. Curiosity is what drives us to explore and discover the world around us. Magnet activities for kids help create situations they have not experienced before, pose new questions, and offer new opportunities for exploration.
Promote Artistic Expression
Some magnetic activities encourage children to express themselves in different ways. For example, the robot activity above can help a child explore how different items look together and discover how they can create figures of all kinds.
Tips for Using Magnets Safely
It is always a medical emergency if a child swallows a magnet. Magnets can pull together or be attracted to metal items outside the body and cause severe damage to the digestive system (2).
Make a point of sitting down and saying clearly to your child that magnets can be dangerous and should never be put in their mouth, nose, or used with any other part of the body besides their hands.
Keep Track of Magnets
- If you use magnets for activities, make a point of counting magnets out of a container before you begin and counting them back into a container when you have finished playing.
- Avoid large sets of magnets as it’s easier for one to go missing without you noticing.
- If you have older children, especially teens, discourage them from using fake piercings that are magnetic. They can fall off or they may be accidentally left lying around and are easy for younger children to find.
Follow Age Recommendations
If you purchase a toy or game that contains magnets, always follow age recommendations (3).
Don’t Use Rare Earth Magnets
Never allow children to play with high-strength neodymium magnets, also known as “rare earth” magnets (4).
A neodymium magnet of just a few cubic centimeters can travel with enough sudden speed and force to break bones or cause deep soft tissue injuries. This can happen if you trap a body part between two rare earth magnets or one magnet and a metal surface.
Also, this sudden attachment can shatter neodymium magnets, causing fragments to fly in multiple directions, resulting in eye and soft tissue injuries.