This article explains magnets and magnetism for kids in an easy to understand manner. Read on to find out more about magnets and magnetism for kids.

Magnets and magnetism

A magnet is a special object that attracts or pulls other objects made from certain metals such as iron and steel. Magnetism refers to the pulling force of a magnet.

The north and south poles of a magnet

All magnets have a north and south pole regardless of their shapes and or sizes.

The north and south poles of a magnet have the greatest pulling force. If a magnet is used to attract paper clips, most of the paper clips will be attracted to the north and south poles because magnets are strongest at their poles.

The like poles of magnets repel each other. When the north-poles of two magnets are put near each other, they will push each other away. This is the same if the south-poles of two magnets are put together.

The unlike poles of magnets attract each other. When the north-pole of one magnet is put near the south-pole of another magnet, the magnets will be pulled together.

Magnets come in various shapes and sizes

magnetism for kids - horseshoe magnetCredit: By Oguraclutch (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia CommonsA horseshoe magnet is a magnet that has a U-shape with its two ends coming slightly together. Its poles are located at its two ends. In the photo, you can see that the two ends of the horseshoe magnet have attracted all the iron filings.

A ring magnet is a magnet that resembles a ring and has a hole in the middle. Its north and south poles are located on its two flat surfaces.

A button magnet is simply a flat and round magnet. Like the ring magnet, its north and south poles are located on each of its flat surfaces.

bar magnetCredit:

A bar magnet is a rectangular magnet with the north and south poles at its two ends. In this picture, they are labeled N and S for north and south respectively.

There are other magnet shapes such as the rod magnet, which as its name suggest, is shaped like a rod, and the U-shaped magnet, which is shaped exactly like the alphabet “U”.

Play with real magnets and magnetism

Dowling Magnets Alnico Science Kit
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(price as of Aug 17, 2015)
This magnets kit comes with a horseshoe magnet, a U-shaped magnet, a bar magnet, some iron filings and steel pieces. This is perfect for experimenting with magnets and magnetism. Learn how magnets work by playing with real magnets.

What are magnetic and non-magnetic materials?

Magnetic materials are metals such as iron, steel, nickel, and cobalt that can be attracted by a magnet. They can also be magnetized to form temporary magnets. It is important to note that not all metals are magnetic materials. Metals such as aluminum, gold, silver, and copper cannot be attracted by a magnet and are non-magnetic.

Non-magnetic materials include plastic, wood, paper, glass, and other metals that cannot be attracted by a magnet. Magnetism can pass through non-magnetic materials.

Where do magnets come from?

Magnets can be natural or man-made. Lodestones are naturally-occurring magnets found on the surface of our planet.

How to make a magnet

A temporary magnet can be made using the stroke method. Using either the north or south-pole of a magnet, stroke a magnetic object such as an iron nail in the same direction multiple times. The iron nail will become magnetized. This means that it has turned into a temporary magnet that can attract other magnetic materials. You can make a stronger magnet by stroking the iron nail more. The magnetism of a temporary magnet made using the stroke method will wear out after a while.

A temporary magnet can also be made using the electrical method. Coil an electrical wire around a magnetic object such as an iron nail and connect the ends of a wire to a battery. The iron nail should become an electromagnet and can now attract other magnetic materials. By increasing the number of batteries used or the number of coils around the iron nail, you can make the temporary magnet stronger. If the battery is removed, the iron nail loses its magnetism and does not attract other magnetic materials anymore.

This article contains step-by-step instructions if you are interested in finding out more about how to make temporary magnets.

How to demagnetize a magnet

A magnet may become weaker or even lose its magnetism (become demagnetised) if the following is done:

  • The magnet is dropped many times from a height
  • The magnet is heated over a flame
  • The magnet is hammered many times

How do you test the strength of a magnet?

The strength of different magnets can be tested by comparing the number of magnetic objects it attracts.

For example, you could test each magnet with paper clips and count how many paper clips each of them can pick up. The magnet that picks up the largest number of paper clips is the strongest.

The strength of a magnet does not depend on its size. A smaller magnet can be stronger than a larger magnet and be able to pick up more magnetic objects.

More experiments with magnets

Thames & Kosmos Magnetic Science
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(price as of Aug 17, 2015)
This magnetic science kit is suitable for kids age 8 to 15 and comes with 33 different magnetic experiments. Build an electromagnet, create invisible magnetic fields and experiment with colorful magnets in various shapes and sizes. It comes with a sixty page full-color manual too.

What are magnets used for

  • Magnets are used in magnetic earrings that do not require piercing.
  • Magnets are used in telephones and speakers to help produce sound.
  • Magnets are used in refrigerators to help keep the refrigerator door shut tightly.
  • Colorful fridge magnets are used to hold messages on the fridge or used as decorations.
  • Magnets are used in doorstoppers to hold doors open.
  • Electromagnets are used in computers to help handle information.
  • Magnets are used in compasses to help identify direction.
  • Maglev trains in Japan are moved by magnets do not have wheels. The train also does not touch the tracks. Hence, Maglev trains can move much faster than normal trains.

Magnets are used in the Maglev train in Japan

Summary of magnets and magnetism for kids

  1. Magnets attract magnetic objects
  2. Magnetism is the pulling force of a magnet
  3. Magnets have a north and south pole
  4. Like poles of magnets repel and the unlike poles attract
  5. Magnets come in various shapes and sizes
  6. Magnetic materials are metals like iron, steel, cobalt, and nickel
  7. Magnetic materials are attracted by a magnet
  8. Non-magnetic materials are non-metals and other metals like gold, silver, and copper
  9. Non-magnetic materials are not attracted by a magnet
  10. Lodestones are natural magnets found on Earth
  11. Temporary magnets can be made using the stroke or electrical method
  12. Magnets can be demagnetized by dropping, heating, or hammering
  13. You can test the strength of magnets by comparing the number of objects (e.g.: paperclips) they attract
  14. The strength of a magnet does not depend on its size
  15. Magnets are used in many different things in our lives

More magnets, and electricity too

Thames & Kosmos Electricity and Magnetism
Amazon Price: $59.95 $42.74 Buy Now
(price as of Aug 17, 2015)
Now that you've learnt the basics of magnets, explore the relationship between magnetism and electricity with this science kit. More than 60 fun and educational experiments to carry out. Suitable for kids ages 8 and up.