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Magnetism Lesson for Kids: Definition & Facts

Instructor: Greta VanBrackle

Greta has eleven years of experience teaching third and fourth grade students in all subject areas.

Magnetism is a physical property of matter and is also one of the basic forces of the universe. This lesson explores magnetism and magnets as well as the power of Earth's magnetic field.

What Is Magnetism?

Do you have magnets holding pictures or school work up on your refrigerator? Have you ever noticed that the refrigerator door pulls itself shut when you start to close it? Magnetism is responsible for both! Magnetism is the physical property of being magnetic and also refers to concept of magnetic forces.

Magnets are objects that give off magnetic fields. These objects attract, or pull, other objects that contain magnetic material. The most common magnetic material is iron (and steel, an alloy of iron). Cobalt, nickel, some rare earth metals, and natural minerals like lodestone and magnetite are magnetic too!

This magnet attracts iron filings.
Photo of iron filings and magnet

Magnetic Or Not?

Have you ever heard your teacher say, 'Every square is a rectangle, but not every rectangle is square?' Well, the same is true with magnets. Every magnetic material is a metal, but not every metal is magnetic.

Your refrigerator is encased in steel, which makes it magnetic. That's why magnets can hold up that photo of your baby cousin. But if you try to use a magnet to hold that photo onto a soda can, it won't work. Why? Because the can is made of aluminum (yep, like the foil) which is a metal, but it's NOT magnetic! Try using a magnet on some change from your piggy bank. Does the magnet attract the coins? Nope. Coins are metal, but not the magnetic kind! Now try some paper clips. Yep! Magnets are attracted to paper clips because they are made of steel wire.

Magnets Can Push Or Pull Each Other

What did one magnet say to the other magnet? I find you very attractive! Get it? Well, the logic behind this joke--that magnets attract each other--is only true sometimes. You see, magnets actually have poles, which are the opposite ends of magnets where the magnetic field is strongest. Every magnet has a north pole and a south pole.

Magnets have north and south poles.
Bar magnet

If you take two magnets and face the north pole of one toward the south pole of the other, the two will attract. It seems opposites really do attract! BUT if you face the north pole of one magnet toward the north pole of the other magnet, the two poles will actually repel, or push away, from each other.

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