DIY Magnetic Field Viewer

What you'll learn:

Magnets have magnetic fields that create forces. These fields can move other objects.

Key takeaways:

A magnetic metal, like iron, is attracted to a strong magnet. The magnetic field lines are where the forces of the magnet act.

DIY magnetic field viewer kids scienceMagnets for kids are a ton of fun.

Mainly because they defy the laws of nature that they know so well. They have learned that gravity pulls things down, or that to move an object you have to touch it.

Magnets, like gravity, can move objects through an invisible force.

Unlike gravity, however, we don’t necessarily experience magnetic fields in our everyday life. Babies aren’t dropping spoons and watching a magnetic force acting upon it, but instead watching gravity act.

There are a ton of toys out there that bring magnets to kids. However, there isn’t much available to help kids see how these magnets work.

One quality about magnetic fields is that you can use a magnetic field viewer to look at the force field of a magnet. I have yet to see a gravity field viewer, although I suspect it would be pretty boring since it would be a bunch of lines pointing to the center of the Earth.

It is pretty easy to make a magnetic field viewer, and it requires very few ingredients.

Below we will show you how to make a magnetic field viewer to add a new dimension to the magnets for kids you might have lying around the house already.

Project Ingredients:
Strong Magnet
Iron filings (or cut up steel wool)
Mineral or baby oil
Flat plastic bottle
Fortified cereal

How to make your own magnetic field viewer

1. Pour a few teaspoonfuls of iron filings into your jar
2. Fill your jar with oil (we suggest mineral or baby)
3. Seal your jar and shake it up
4. Put a strong magnet next to the jar and watch the filings map our the magnetic field lines

Congrats! You just made yourself a magnetic field viewer!

How to make a magnetic field viewer 1
How to make a magnetic field viewer 2
How to make a magnetic field viewer 4

Some notes on making your magnetic field viewer really great:

  • If you add too much iron filings your magnetic field viewer will be too filled with iron to seem much of anything.
  • Fill your jar all the way with oil. The idea is to make it so you have the smallest air bubble possible once sealed.
  • Use oil, not water! You might be tempted to make your magnetic field viewer with water. That would be a mistake. The water is not viscous enough to suspend the iron filings, and it will also rust the iron making your magnetic field viewer have a dirty brown liquid in it.
  • It is a lot easier to see the magnetic field lines if you use a jar that has flat, instead of rounded, sides. While it is a bit of a splurge for the jar we recommend ($8 versus free from your fridge), the flat viewing really helps see what is happening.

Some favorite toys with magnets for kids

Magnetic tile toys

I adore the magnetic tile toys. I don’t have a favorite manufacturer, and I am guessing they are all pretty much the same. I love these because they encourage building and imaginative play at the same time. My girls always enjoyed building castles for their Shopkins.

Ball and stick magnetic toys

We have somehow collected a gallon ziplock bag of these ball and stick magnets for kids. They are great to build geometric structures which helps kids with math and spatial reasoning. We love to create spinners out of these by making a geometric shape and attaching an extra ball and stick so it can spin freely.

Magnetic balls

These magnets for kids are not for little kids, so just beware. Made up of small magnetic balls you can create your own sculptures. Imagine if molding with clay – it’s pretty much like that but without the clay.

Magnet set

This is just a bunch of magnets. Horseshoe magnets, bar magnets, ball magnets – you get the idea. These are great for kids to experiment around the house and discover what magnets can do, and what types of objects are magnetic (like the fridge) and which ones aren’t (like the rug).

Check out our other fun science activities!

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