By Carly Loeper, Exhibit & Program Developer, Providence Children’s Museum
What makes magnets so attractive to the playful spirit? I keep a pile of simple ceramic magnets within reach on my metal desk; when I’m fiddling with an idea I like to give my fingers something to toy with, too.Â As a child, I did the same thing, pulling the strongest two magnets off the fridge for the unparalleled sensation of pushing together objects that refuse to touch.Â Magnets delight, surprise and, like the phenomena that can be explored with air, sand or water, the options for play are limitless.
Bringing trays of magnet materials into the Museum’s Play Power exhibit, I’ve noticed that no two children — or parents — ever play with them the exact same way.Â The more you manipulate magnets, the more you learn about how they behave, and it’s exciting to unlock those secrets together: “Check this out!”Â “What happens if we…?”Â “Let’s see how high we can make it.”Â Join us to explore the playful power of magnetism and sculpt with magnets during our next Magnet Play program on February 25 from 3:00 – 5:00 PM.
Here are some ideas for open-ended magnet play to try at home:
Magnets and Metal:Â Raid the workbench for metal hardware like washers and nails, or search junk drawers to see what you can find that sticks to magnets.Â A cookie tray makes a great building surface.Â I’ve spotted families playing by making magnet faces, stacking artful towers, and magnetizing paper clips to dangle from one another.
Playing with the Poles: “Want to see a magic trick?” a 6-year-old girl playfully invited, then revealed her hand from behind her back, pinching two ceramic magnets together.Â She carefully freed the top magnet from her grip and it flipped itself into the air.Â “Ta-dah!”Â It’s also fun to put a pencil through ring-shaped magnets and observe the opposing poles pushing the magnets away from one another.Â We’ve even built cars and used the force of magnets to push them along.Â You don’t need to understand how poles work to experiment with magnets attracting and repelling; investigating magnets like a scientist at play is learning that sticks from hands-on experience.
Make ‘Em Dance: Put one magnet on top of a sheet of paper.Â Hold another magnet below the paper.Â Make the magnet on top “dance” by moving the magnet below.Â Discover what other surfaces the magnets’ attraction can work through, even an open palm.Â It is so fun and beautiful to sprinkle iron filings on a plastic tray and drag a magnet on the underside to create patterns of ripples and swirls.
Magnet Sources — Beyond the Fridge: The “Magnet Play” kit at Providence Children’s Museum’s Gift Shop includes a magnet wand, magnets, metal washers and more playful ideas for at-home magnet exploration, compiled by our play specialists.
American Science and Surplus is chock full of weird and wonderful materials — type “magnets” in the search bar for bags of simple ceramic and other interesting magnets.
February 14 – 20 is National Engineers Week. In addition to playing with magnets, visit Providence Children’s Museum during school vacation to explore “The Magic of Science,” including air pressure, carbon dioxide and the invention of the wheel, on February 17.Â “Be An Engineer” on February 20 and program a human robot and investigate oobleck with the Society of Women Engineers.Â Also try hands-on science and engineering challenges in the FETCH!â„¢ Lab each Wednesday afternoon from 3:00 – 5:00 PM.Â Visit the Museum’s website calendar for details.
TM/Â© 2007 WGBH Educational Foundation.