Add the challenge of a maze to the magical appeal of magnets and you have a fun STEM activity that will have your inquisitive little scientists begging for more. It’s a good thing these paper plate mazes are easy to adapt for multiple levels, since magnets seem to attract no matter the kids’ ages!
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To make these paper plate mazes, I grabbed:
- Paper Plates (we used Chinet 10 3/8 inch plain paper plates like the ones HERE)
- Strong Magnets (any strong 18 mm magnet will do, we used THESE)
- Glue (tacky glue or hot glue)
- Glue Stick
- White Cardstock
- Maze Printable (at the bottom of this post)
Making the Mazes
After printing out the maze (below) on card stock, I added color to the graphics with colored pencils.
Then, I carefully cut out the maze and graphics.
Note: I added a piece of colored cardstock to the back of my maze just for looks but that step is totally optional.
Once I had everything cut out, I used a glue stick to attach the maze to the paper plate.
I glued the acorn and the hat in the center of each maze.
To make the magnet wand, I used tacky glue to attach a magnet to the end of a wooden chopstick. I placed a small blob of glue to the magnet, then laid the chopstick on top of the glue. I did this the night before to allow it to dry, but hot glue would work just as well and would be ready in minutes.
Once the wand was ready, I set about making the magnet squirrel and snowman.
Before gluing the magnet to the cut out characters with tacky glue, I made sure the side that would be facing the plate (and the magnet wand below) was of the opposite polarity than the magnet wand.
Basically, you want to make sure your wand and squirrel or snowman will attract and stick together, not repel each other.
I waited a few minutes for the glue to set then called the kiddos over to play.
First up was my 6 year-old and she was all smiles. My 4 year-old couldn’t wait for his turn and eagerly watched at his sister’s side.
It turned out not only to be a fun way to explore magnetism but a good fine motor challenge, too. My 6 year-old quickly got the hang of slowly-moving the magnet to get the snowman to move, but my 4 year-old definitely had to work on those more controlled movements.
After they completed both mazes a few times ,they each grabbed a wand and wandered through the house in search of magnetic objects. It turned out each wand had a different polarity, so they repelled each other, these discoveries lead to some good conversations about what a magnet is, what items are magnetic and what polarity is.
The Science Behind Magnetic “Magic”
One of the most amazing things about magnets is the way they can exert control over another object without even touching it. My Star Wars obsessed 4 year-old would say it’s just like “The Force!”
So how do magnets do this?
Matter (anything that has mass and takes up space) is made of tiny particles called atoms. Atoms have negatively charged electrons that spin around them and this tiny movement of an electron around its nucleus is enough to create a small magnetic field.
If an element has paired electrons that spin in opposite directions, their magnetic field cancels each other out.
If an element, such as iron, has unpaired electrons that spin in the same direction, they have no opposing magnetic fields to cancel their own magnetic fields and they create the invisible force called magnetism.
Magnetic fields are dipolar, meaning they have two poles. The two ends of a magnet are called the north and south poles. As my kids learned when the two magnet wands wouldn’t stick together, matching poles repel while opposite poles attract.
The poles are the parts where the magnets are strongest. Around these poles is an area known as a magnetic field. For another object to be drawn to the magnet, it has to be within its magnetic field. And that is how a magnet can exert control over another object without even touching it!
Grab Your Maze
Click the blue button below to download your free maze! Want more STEM challenges your kids will love? Snag our Epic STEM Challenge Bundle in our shop!