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Magnetic STEAM Fun - Exploring the Science of Magnets Through Play

Early childhood is a critical time for fostering curiosity and a love for learning, and this is a wonderful time to begin introducing children to the wonders of science through STEAM activities. A fantastic tool that can spark scientific curiosity in children is the humble magnet. Children will be fascinated by its mysterious ability to attract certain objects and to repel others.

Magnets offer an interactive and hands-on way for children to explore the principles of physics while having fun and learning through play. In this blog post you will find some suggestions for exciting magnet activities suitable for early childhood education, showcasing how magnets can foster key STEAM benefits such as curiosity, critical thinking and problem solving and lay the foundation for a lifelong appreciation of science.

Firstly, you can help children to begin to understand the concept of magnetism by explaining the concept in simple, familiar terminology. For example:

"Do you know magnets are like magic? They have a special power called magnetism. Imagine magnets as invisible superheroes that can attract certain objects and pull them close. Just like how a magnet can stick to your fridge and hold up your artwork, it can also pull other things that are made of certain materials, like metal".

You can then provide children with various play based STEAM activities to explore magnets and magnetism, such as:

Magnetic Sensory Bins

Create sensory bins or tuff trays filled with a variety of magnetic and non-magnetic items such as paper clips, coins, feathers, and plastic toys. Encourage children to use magnets to explore which objects are attracted to the magnet and which are not. This activity not only engages their sense of touch but also introduces the concept of magnetic attraction in a tangible and meaningful way.

Magnetic Fishing

Attach paper clips to cardboard fish cutouts and place them in a pond themed tuff tray or table top area. Create magnetic fishing rods by attaching small magnets to a string at the end of a small stick or piece of bamboo. Challenge the children to "catch" the fish using the magnetic rods. This activity promotes hand-eye coordination while reinforcing the concept of magnetic attraction. This activity can be extended to promote early numeracy and literacy by writing different numbers or letters on each fish or promote colour recognition by creating different coloured cardboard fish.

Magnetic Mazes

Draw simple mazes on a tuff tray, table top or piece of paper. Attach small magnets to the end of lollipop sticks and challenge the children to guide a magnetic item such as a paper clip or magnetic marble around the maze. This activity can support children to understand maths concepts such as length, spatial awareness, direction, angle and distance. To promote early literacy, instead of a maze, draw various patterns (swirls, shapes, wavy lines etc) on the surface and encourage the children to navigate the magnets along the different designs. This activity not only sharpens problem-solving skills but also introduces the idea of magnetism as a force that can exert influence over objects.

Magnet Experiments

Engage children in simple magnet experiments, such as testing the strength of different magnets or exploring how magnets interact with various materials of different size, shape and weight. By providing different sized magnetic objects and different sized magnets, children can hypothesise and predict how each magnet will react with each item. They can then observe the results as they conduct their experiments, fostering critical thinking skills and scientific inquiry.

To conclude, introducing magnets into early childhood education can fuel curious young brains and begin to nurture a passion for science in young children. By engaging in hands-on magnet activities, children not only develop important cognitive and motor skills but also gain a deeper understanding of fundamental scientific principles. So, let's harness the magnetism of scientific STEAM activities to inspire the next generation of big thinkers!

About the Author:

Paula Walshe is a published author, PhD student and Assistant Lecturer in ECE at Dundalk Institute of Technology. Her PhD research focusses on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts and maths) in ECEC.

In 2023 Paula published her first book entitled "Síolta in Practice" which is a guide to implementing Síolta quality standards in ECEC. It is published by Boru Press and is available here.

Paula has also co-founded a Twitter community of practice page and podcast @ECEQualityIrl . You can listen to the most recent ECE Quality Ireland podcast here.

You can contact Paula or learn more about her work here. LinkedIn: Paula Walshe / Twitter: @walshe_paula / Instagram: @digitalearlychildhoodeducator

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