Using magnets to help young children learn

Magnets are a wonderful tool for teaching young children. Whether they’re learning their numbers, letters, colors, or shapes, custom magnets can help! Here are a few ideas regarding using magnets in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classrooms.

Magnetic Pattern Blocks

Whether you choose traditional tangram shapes or a large set of primary geometric shapes, magnetic pattern blocks are a great alternative to playing with plastic blocks on a sheet of paper. Simply store the magnetic pattern blocks in a plastic zippered pouch and allow children to borrow it for whiteboard use at the designated time. Use a heavy-duty round magnet to hang a pattern on the board for the child to follow.

 

Unlike plastic blocks, magnets on a whiteboard won’t slip around on the pattern page, and working upright at the board is a good opportunity for small children to maintain upright posture rather than hunching down over a paper pattern on a desk.
Quick tip: Another use for geometric magnets involves asking a child to sort a collection of magnets by shape and color.

 

Magnetic Math Cubes

As soon as students are old enough to begin using plastic math cubes, set aside a couple of sets and add magnets to them. These magnetic math cubes can then be used at the white board. Children who are struggling with visualizing number comparisons will be able to compare number sets and practice working with bar graphs more easily when they can stand back and see the comparative blocks arranged upright in front of them.

Learning to Spell

As any child who has had the pleasure of spelling with magnetic letters can tell you, playing with letter magnets doesn’t feel like working. Spelling is usually much more fun when it involves sorting and displaying colorful magnetic letters.

Children especially enjoy spelling out their names with magnets. If you are equipped with several sets of alphabet magnets, children may sort through the sets and select the letters that comprise their names. This works best if young children are sorted into groups of no more than 5. A classroom helper can sit and help the children arrange their names on 9 x 13 nonstick baking sheets, which work very well as portable magnetic surfaces.


Quick tips: there are printable learning sheets that are intended for use with classroom magnet sets, and they work very well on the baking sheet. The baking sheet can also be used to arrange the alphabet in order.

Test: Will It Stick?

Allow students to wander the classroom in teams of two (usually allowing only one or two teams to play at once is recommended). Instruct them to walk around the room and discover which surfaces the magnet will and will not stick to. Ask them to keep their observation a secret until everyone has had a chance to explore. Discuss their discoveries afterward in the larger group setting.

The questions you ask as you discuss the lesson can vary depending on the aspect of the lesson you wish to stress, but children often like to share which magnetic surface surprised them the most. Follow up with a question about which non-magnetic surface was the most unexpected. The critical thinking conversation that follows will be a good setup for larger lesson on the physical behavior of magnets.

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