DIY: Make your own magnetic play set for preschool

DIY: Make your own magnetic play set for preschool

I just love robots and this is one of the most creative ideas for robots and magnets that I have seen. This idea was shared by The Chocolate Muffin Tree: titled “Tin Can Magnetic Robots” earlier this summer. As soon as I saw this, I just had to make me a set of magnets similar to the idea for my new classroom this year…

I started out by collecting a variety of tin cans. I didn’t have the kind of can opener that leaves the inside completely smooth so to make sure there were no sharp edges, my brother sanded the inside edges for me with a metal sander. It took him about 15 minutes to sand down all my cans.  But you can find can openers that will leave smooth edges – I will have to look for one of those. Along with collecting tin cans, I also have been collecting milk jug lids and other types of lids of various colors and sizes…

I also bought a few small plastic Slinkys to add to my magnetic play set.  Just about everything you see here has a round magnet glued to the back of it using Soho glue. I glued each end of a slinky inside a milk jug lid and then glued a magnet on the back of the milk jug lid…

Here are some folks that have enjoyed the magnets…

Great Grandma and Wy exploring the magnets

Deborah (me), Wy, and my special guest Eric Violette exploring the magnets together (Click the photo to see more about Eric)

Wy with the magnets all to himself !

I can’t tell you how fun this has been to play with over the summer and I look forward to sharing it with my class this fall…

Magnets are glued on the lids.

Magnets glued on the tin cans


Both ends of Slinkys glued inside a lid with a magnet on the bottom


For more fun ideas to go with this homemade magnetic set, see how The Chocolate Muffin Tree made her “Tin Can Magnetic Robots“!

I am linking up with Melomma Friday Blog Hop!


  • Trisha Posted August 9, 2011 1:06 am

    Is that an oil pan you’re using to play with the magnets on?

  • Caz Posted August 9, 2011 2:35 am

    I LOVE this! What an amazing idea, my girls will be in heaven tinkering with these all day. Awesome and so much fun!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. Posted August 9, 2011 7:53 am

      It really is something that you just want to sit and “tinker” with.

  • twolittleseeds Posted August 9, 2011 5:50 am

    Brilliant! x

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. Posted August 9, 2011 7:52 am

      Thanks for stopping by!

  • Leeanne A Posted August 9, 2011 7:09 am

    Love the slinkys on the magnets! Now I have to make those as well! all your ideas keep me very busy! 🙂

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. Posted August 9, 2011 7:52 am

      Haha – I keep myself busy too:)

  • cathy Posted August 9, 2011 7:18 am

    I love the look of these! I’d be great to get the kids involved in gluing all the pieces together, so they could make a set to go home too! I love the slinky’s and wonder how they’ll hold up under repeated use? I know my kids have them in knots in minutes usually! 🙂

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. Posted August 9, 2011 7:50 am

      I figure they wont last forever but because I have the kids sit and use them as a part of the magnet table rather than trying to play with them in the customary way- so far so good.

  • eva harp Posted August 9, 2011 8:23 am

    Awesome idea!! i can’t way to make this.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. Posted August 9, 2011 8:39 am

      Thanks for stopping by Eva:)

  • Barbara Posted August 9, 2011 8:27 am

    Hi Deborah!
    As a fellow preschool teacher , I have a difficult time recycling containers in my kitchen as I am sure that they could be put to good use in preschool. In order to help contain this collection, I allow myself one kitchen sized trash bag which is hung in the pantry. When the bag is full, I go through it and set aside important containers for projects then and recycle the rest.
    This magnet activity is perfect for my next project!! Did you use tacky glue?
    How well are the magnets staying attached.

    With all of the ideas you have provided this summer, I have to ask

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. Posted August 9, 2011 8:38 am

      Hi Barbara,
      I used tacky glue to glue the magnets to the plastic pieces and cans. But I found since this that you can also just teach the children how to place a magnet between the cans (can – magnet – can) and the can stick the cans together anyway they wish. The glue has held up really well for the plastic pieces but the tacky glue doesn’t do as well on the cans after awhile (they don’t fall off but peel off more easily) so I am still thinking of what I should use for gluing the magnets to the cans.

      Oh – and I am due for a very long nap:)

  • wordplayhouse™ Posted August 9, 2011 8:40 am

    Oh—colorful, creative, endless fun. Wonderful open-ended play!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. Posted August 9, 2011 9:29 am

      Very open ended:)

  • Sarah Posted August 9, 2011 9:10 am

    What is soho glue? I would think using hot glue to attach the magnets? I love this idea, by the way, empty cans and slinkies are the first things I will be asking my parents to donate this year! Did you also glue wiggle eyes to some of the lids? Too cute!!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. Posted August 9, 2011 9:28 am

      It is tacky glue and is available in most places where the sell craft supplies.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. Posted August 9, 2011 1:55 pm

      Oh, and yes – I did glue googly eyes inside some of the caps too:)

  • sara Posted August 9, 2011 9:36 am

    I love this idea! I had seen posts on making robots with boxes but this is new! We will do this with my boys and my preschool classroom. Thanks! 🙂

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. Posted August 9, 2011 1:56 pm

      Great! I hope the boys enjoy it!

  • Stacy @ {share&} Posted August 9, 2011 9:54 am

    What a completely awesome idea!! I just love this. Best idea I’ve seen in a long time! I’m definitely going to make a set. Thanks! I love how much you’re getting done. Inspirational for me on those days when I’m in a slump! LOL

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. Posted August 9, 2011 1:57 pm

      I haven’t hit a slump yet but I actually look kind of forward to one for a few days! LOL!

  • Scott Posted August 9, 2011 10:54 am

    Slinkys with magnets on the end? I think that’s pure genius. I can’t wait to add that to my magnet stuff. And lids with magnets. I have collected so many lids that I need something new to do with them. Thanks!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. Posted August 9, 2011 1:57 pm

      Fun way to use lids and we love the slinky magnets. We can use them for telephone play too!

  • Home School Coach Posted August 9, 2011 8:51 pm

    This is just the cutest thing. I am going to make one for my grandkids. They will love it. I am also going to pass it along to my readers who will love it too. Thanks for sharing.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. Posted August 9, 2011 11:33 pm

      Thanks for passing it along:)

  • Traycee Bedford Posted August 9, 2011 10:02 pm

    You can pick up one of those nifty can openers at Wal-Mart for $15 -$20 dollars. They are battery operated and one-button push operated. A little more that I ever though of paying for a can opener but with small children they are worth while!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. Posted August 9, 2011 11:33 pm

      I will definitely look for one. It would make this much simpler:)

  • magnet printing Posted August 9, 2011 10:14 pm

    Wow. This is so wonderful. The kids would surely love to have those stuff. I think Wy had a great time doing those stuff with you. I didn’t know Slinkies are still in the market.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. Posted August 9, 2011 11:33 pm

      Yes, Slinkys are still available but the only ones I could find were the little plastic ones that are in with the party supplies.

  • heather Posted August 10, 2011 12:23 am

    this is great… so creative! i think my son would love this!

    and thanks for stopping by over at my site… hope to see you there again soon!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. Posted August 10, 2011 1:11 am

      Thanks for stopping by here too:)

  • Janet Posted August 10, 2011 5:35 am

    Awesome! I’m going to make some for my classroom. Thanks for the idea.

  • Mombeam Posted August 10, 2011 12:12 pm

    I think this is a super-cute idea but what about the safety of the magnets themselves? What size magnets did you use and are they large enough that if they fell off the pieces they wouldn’t pose a choking hazard? Magnets are so dangerous, especially if they get swallowed and then connect together.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. Posted August 10, 2011 12:15 pm

      No doubt that you will want to consider safety and monitor the children who use this. I would not suggest this for the very young preschooler (toddlers) but I used it with my nephew so far who is only 21/2 and he did quite well and understood not to put the magnets in his mouth. They are definitely a choking hazard and monitoring young children is a must. There IS every possibility the magnets can fall off.

  • Jennifer Posted September 17, 2011 9:52 pm

    Great idea!

  • Love and Lollipops Posted September 22, 2011 7:07 am

    This is such a terrific idea…It makes me want to play too 🙂

    Georgia 🙂

  • Melissa @ The Chocolate Muffin Tree Posted September 27, 2011 6:14 pm

    Thanks for the mention…just realized you posted this via The Wonder Years!
    Looks like you had a lot of FUN!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. Posted September 27, 2011 7:11 pm

      We LOVE these!

  • Joyce @Dinosaurs And Octopuses Posted November 22, 2011 12:18 pm

    I can’t tell you how much I love this post! I’ll definitely have to put this together for my son! Thank you for sharing. I’ve pinned and will share!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. Posted November 22, 2011 3:11 pm

      Thank you Joyce:) It is one of my favorites too!

  • Mrs. P Posted February 11, 2012 8:31 am

    I was just led to your site and this project from Pinterest…what a wonderful idea! I have four children who will love this as well as my art students who will go crazy for this! What a great art center idea (really for any age) as well as a wonderful way to show how we can recycle objects into art and a lesson in sculpture (all while being super fun!). I am in trouble with this project–I’m going to be collecting all sorts of things to make into robots! (My hubby also owns an automotive shop, so I’m going to ask him to collect things too!). Thank you so much for sharing!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. Posted February 11, 2012 12:00 pm

      Wow – you have all the right materials and thought processes to make this process wonderful!

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  • Linda Posted June 12, 2017 11:11 pm

    I do not want to use any glue that does not hold these magnets tight….I’m using these with preschool and to me if they are under the age of 5 I don’t want to take a chance with the magnets. These are for VBS and I have one 2 1/2 year old that wouldn’t listen if I told him not to put a magnet in his mouth. Wonder about clear Gorilla glue? That stuff holds forever…..but don’t know if it will work on metal. Any one have any ideas?

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. Posted June 13, 2017 7:06 am

      Hi Linda! I like to use E6000 glue but I have found that the magnets will come off of plastic pieces pretty easily but not off of metal pieces..

  • Sue Posted April 17, 2018 7:20 am

    This week is Robot Week in our preschool class and I’ve duplicated your efforts! The children are thoroughly enjoying playing with the magnets. Thank you for sharing your ideas.

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