How to Compare the Strength of Magnets: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Catherine Maher

Catherine has taught 4th through 7th grade and has a master's degree in reading education.

In this lesson you will learn two ways to test the strength of magnets. You will find out how much a magnet can hold, and you will test from how far away it can attract. You will be able to compare magnets and tell which is the strongest.

Amazing Magnets

Magnets! They are everywhere. They may cover your refrigerator. Cupboard doors click closed because of magnets. Magnets are in motors and computers, and they help doctors diagnose illness.

Magnets come in many shapes and sizes, but they also come in different strengths. Read on to find two ways you can test the strength of magnets.

Basic Magnet Facts

There are a few things you should know about magnets. You've probably realized that magnets will only stick to certain materials. Most likely at home and school, you've stuck a magnet to iron or metals that contain iron because that's how most magnets work.

All magnets have two ends called poles. The poles are at opposite ends in a bar magnet, the two ends of a horseshoe magnet, or the top and bottom of a disc-shaped magnet. One pole is north, and the other is south.

This bar magnet has a north pole and a south pole.
image of bar magnet

If you put two magnets near each other, the north and south poles will attract, or pull towards each other, but the two north poles or two south poles will repel, or push away from each other.

If you've used magnets at all, you probably noticed that some are stronger than others. Junkyard magnets are strong enough to pick up a car! Other magnets can barely hold an art project to your refrigerator. How can we test magnets to determine their strength? Here are two methods you can use.

Paper Clip Chain

To do this test, you will need several magnets and a lot of small metal paper clips. The paper clips should all be the same size. (If you don't have paper clips, you can use small washers, individual staples, safety pins, or any other small object that contains iron.) To test the strength of a magnet, start by using it to pick up one paper clip. Then touch the end of the paper clip hanging from the magnet to a second paper clip. If your magnet is strong enough, this paper clip will stick to the first one.

You should be able to make a chain of paper clips sticking to each other end to end, with only the first paper clip touching the magnet. The longer the chain you can make, the stronger your magnet is. You may also try picking up paper clips in bunches. Which of your magnets can hold the most paper clips? That one is the strongest.

This magnet is strong enough to attract many paper clips!
image of magnet attracting paper clips

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