What a Compass Does – Compass Needle Deflection

Kindergarten science projects? I know it’s early, but I also realize kindergarten is a wonderful age of discovery – not so much on the why of it, but the “wow” of it all. Remember?

If not, all that is needed is to watch your preschool age son, grandson, daughter or granddaughter for about 5 minutes (or the ones next door if you don’t have any yet). Youngsters get excited about learning new things. And it is refreshing. Just look through their eyes and be young again …

I know we can’t get too detailed in kindergarten science projects with how or why things work, but we can sure wet their appetite to want to know more. If we can just keep them excited about learning new things … who knows where that will lead?

Here are a few kindergarten science projects to help do just that. Have fun!

What Does A Compass Really Do?

Just what is it that a compass does? Will it always point north? Can we convince it to do otherwise? If so, how … and why would we be able to do that?

These are some of the questions this kindergarten science project is designed to answer. It is specifically designed for very young students, but as you will see from other experiments on this site, it doesn’t take much to expand the topic to about any grade level desired.

Enjoy! (and please be sure to let me know how they did!)

Compass Kindergarten Science Project


To introduce young students to the concept of magnetism by using everyday items they are most likely already familiar with.


Magnetite (if available)
Bar Magnet


No advance prep, other than gathering the materials is needed for this kindergarten science project.

Project day

Ask the students if anybody knows where “North” is. Let the discussion happen, and then ask how can we find out if we do not know. If nobody knows, ask if anybody can tell you what a compass is, and if it could it be used to tell us where north is. Again, let the comments come freely, and then have them each look at a compass to see where the needle points in their classroom. If you have enough for a couple groups, ask each group to point to where their compass needle is pointing. They will be able to see that everybody is pointing in the same direction … and that must be where North is.

Then be sure to explain that the way to use the compass is to turn it until the “N” is where the needle is pointing. Yes, that is North, but now the compass will also show you where East, West and South are as well. This can be a fun game to play by itself, where each group has a compass, a direction east, west, north or south is called out and each group takes two steps in the direction called. Many versions of the same game can be played (or kindergarten science project here), but all are fun ways to learn directions and just a little about magnetism.

Now for the second question … do they always point north? This time, have the students identify where north is again with their compass. Place the compass on a desk or table and turn it again so that the letter “N” is in the direction of the needle. Have one person slowly move the magnetite or bar magnet toward the compass and ask them what happened? If you are using a bar magnet, tell them the red end usually has an “N” stamped on it and ask if anyone can tell you why. Yes, it is marked “N” because it is the “North” end of the magnet. A compass will point to the north end of the magnet if they are close enough together. That must mean that the earth is really just one big magnet, and the compass is pointing to the north “pole” as well. Since it does, we can use it to help us find the direction we need to go if we are lost or trying to follow a map.

If the class is especially perceptive, you can increase the depth of this kindergarten science project by turning the bar magnet around so that the “S” points toward the compass. Watch the needle spin away from it. Tell the students the arrow is trying to point away from the magnet because we are showing it the south pole side. If we pretended it was the earth’s south pole, then the arrow would still be pointing to the north pole. Make a big circular loop with your arm from the “S” on the magnet, as if you are drawing a circle around the earth and end up at the “N” to show the needle really does point “North”.

Summarize by answering the two questions: What does a compass really do; and, will it always point to the direction north?

For more fun projects with magnets, these kits can help:


Want to try making a compass? Try this project:  https://how-things-work-science-projects.com/how-to-make-a-compass/




What does a Magnet Attract?

The previous project shows that a compass needle can be moved by a magnet (table top version or the earth itself), but what else will a magnet attract? Will it pick up paper clips? A piece of paper? How about chalk?

I certainly agree, it is too early to discuss concepts like electron spin, as is done on the magnet science projects page, but it isn’t too early to help them understand not all things are the same, and that we just might have to try an experiment to be certain what will happen. That is the focus of this kindergarten science project.

Here we go …

Have Fun!
Magnet Kindergarten Science Project

To introduce young students to the concept of magnetism by using everyday items they are most likely already familiar with.


small washers (as in nuts, bolts and “washers”),
small pieces of paper, chalk, popsicle sticks, pieces of a plastic cup, etc.
Bar Magnets, one for each group.


No advance preparation, other than gathering the materials is needed for this kindergarten science project.

Project day

Ask if anyone has used a magnet before. Let the students give as many examples as they can, but if the discussion goes a bit slowly, help them start by asking if anybody has a refrigerator with magnets on it. They might be letters or numbers or just a small square mom or dad uses to hold up a piece of paper, a picture you colored or maybe even a photograph of grandma all by itself (at least without the need for glue or bubble gum!). Then ask if they would like to see what magnets can do right now!

If you have some additional adult help, break the class up into as many small groups as you have magnets and samples for. While the class is getting into their groups, place different test samples on several desks or tables around the room.

At this point, please let them know that anytime we do a kindergarten science project, we need to set some lab rules. For today’s project, only one person can touch the magnet at a time, and for now, the only thing they can use to pick up the items on the desks or tables with is the magnet. Let them know we cannot use our hands because we are trying to see what will stick to the magnet all by itself.

When they get to their stations, ask them to look toward the blackboard, and one item at a time, write down the item on the blackboard, tell them what it is and ask them to raise their hand if they think the magnet will pick that item up. If most say yes, put a check by it. If most say no, put an X by that item. Now the fun starts.

Hand out one magnet to a student in each group. Have each group gather around their desk or table and ask the person holding the magnet to try to get the paper, or washer, etc., to stick to the magnet. In fact, let’s see if anyone can pick the item up off the desk by just touching it with the magnet. No fair using hands!

It is important to let every student hold the magnet at least once, but if you have limited time, it is not necessary for every student to try picking up every item on every desk. When at least two or three have had a chance to try the magnet at one station, have them move (I’ll say orderly with a smile here) to the next station.

When each group has tried each station, have them put their magnets on the table and look toward the blackboard again. Starting from the top of the list, tell them what it is and ask by a show of hands if it will stick to the magnet all by itself? I’d be willing to bet a fair amount that not all hands will go up or down when they should. But that is ok. In fact it is most welcome.

When the answers are not correct (or you suspect most are just guessing), have the group with that item on their table try to pick it up with the magnet while everyone else watches. That will help tie things together. They don’t even have to know they are learning to hypothesize, test and analyze, but they’ll get it just the same … and have fun doing it at the same time.

Summarize by letting them know they guessed at what they thought would stick to the magnet, and then did an experiment to see if they guessed right. After we did the experiment, we found that only metal things can be picked up by a magnet, not paper or plastic or chalk … etc.


Want to try making a magnet? Here is a project to try: https://how-things-work-science-projects.com/how-to-make-a-magnet/

And for a whole series of other age 2-7 early leaning curriculum, see …

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