Magnetic treasure basket

There are lots of people on Instagram (where I'm @OssiconesOxygen) and elsewhere with great ideas for sensory play for babies and toddlers, and we've tried a few of them. They mostly don't feature on my blog because whilst they provide valuable learning opportunities, there's not a lot usually a lot of science involved so I don't tend to write about them. However, I tried a variation on the 'treasure basket' of items for small children to explore and use as they see fit, Montessori style, and introduced magnets alongside other items. I knew my youngest son would like to play with magnets as he's been curious about his brother's magnetic toys that he's encountered before.  I also tried a magnetic sorting activity with my eldest son when he was 2 and I think he would have enjoyed it at an earlier age.

Magnetic and non-magnetic

In our treasure basket (a fancy term for a box of objects!) I put a selection of items, some of which were magnetic, and some of which were not e.g. made of wood or plastic. When I arranged it, I tried to make sure the magnets/magnetic objects were separated so that he'd be able to observe what happened when he moved things around.  I used iron-containing objects with no sharp edges e.g. a teaspoon and a toy pan lid and large magnets encased in plastic, as small magnets are hazardous if swallowed, and he played under close supervision.

Investigating the magnets

He dived straight in and picked up the big yellow horseshoe magnet that he's coveted before when he's seen his brother playing with it. As he picked it up, one of the Magformers magnetic shapes sprang towards it and hung off one pole of the magnet. He looked surprised and turned to show me. He gave the square a vigorous wobble and it fell off. He then proceeded to pick up and play with various objects in the box, and was clearly interested when things were attracted to each other or he felt them repel.

Observing magnetic objects

It kept him amused for a good 10 minutes, and he kept finding new combinations of things that stuck to each other, and ways of picking up multiple objects with a magnet.  He decided to go take me to the kitchen and point at food, so we made lunch, but afterwards he returned to investigate the magnets again. I think I will try this again soon with a few different objects as he seemed engaged.  I also enjoyed watching his exploration and obvious interest in what he discovered and his attempts to communicate what he'd found surprising.