Make Your Own Compass

We’re winding down on Fascinating Science for Kids experiments…we only have two left! Today we’re learning how to make a compass using water, a bowl, a needle, and a piece of craft foam or waxed paper!

This idea originally came from Quirky Momma , but I didn’t have a cork…so I improvised (and use Steve Spangler Science for a little help as well).


 Here’s what you’ll need:  a small dish of water, a sewing needle, a bar magnet (without coating, preferably with the poles labeled), and craft foam or waxed paper.


1. Take the “North” side of your bar magnet and place it perpendicular to your needle. Starting at the top of the needle, slide the side of the bar magnet along the length of the needle. Do not slide back and forth, but rather slide from one end to the other. Stop and start back at the end you began with. Repeat several times (like fifty).


2. Turn the needle upside down and use the opposite end of the magnet and repeat the same process until the needle is magnetized.


 3. Have an adult thread the needle through the waxed paper/foam circle. This will cause the needle to float on top of the water


4. Place the needle on top of the water. Watch as the tip of the needle spins to point northward! (I did it backwards…the side of the needle with the hole was the one that ended up being north.)



The Science Behind It:

When you rub the needle with your magnet, a little bit of magnetic material will end up being left behind on the needle. This creates a magnet! In order for the needle to act as a compass, it needs to be placed in an environment with less friction, which in this case is the water. But first it needs to be able to float, which is why we use the waxed paper/foam. Once the needle and waxed paper/foam are placed on the water, the opposite poles of the needle are attracted to the Earth’s magnetic field!


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