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!

By |2011-08-09T00:28:58+00:00August 9th, 2011|

About the Author:

Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. has been working and teaching in the field of early childhood education for over 30 years. Deborah currently owns and teaches in her own part-time, private preschool called The Children’s Studio. Deborah’s deep passion for teaching and working with young children is documented and then graciously shared with millions of readers around the world through her blog and other social networking communities. Deborah believes that young children learn best through play and exploration and embraces this belief in all that she does in her own classroom so that she can effectively and passionately share rewarding, real- life, tried-and-true practices with other teachers, parents, and leaders across the field of early childhood education.


  1. Trisha August 9, 2011 at 1:06 am - Reply

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

  2. Caz August 9, 2011 at 2:35 am - Reply

    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. August 9, 2011 at 7:53 am - Reply

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

  3. twolittleseeds August 9, 2011 at 5:50 am - Reply

    Brilliant! x

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. August 9, 2011 at 7:52 am - Reply

      Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Leeanne A August 9, 2011 at 7:09 am - Reply

    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. August 9, 2011 at 7:52 am - Reply

      Haha – I keep myself busy too:)

  5. cathy August 9, 2011 at 7:18 am - Reply

    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. August 9, 2011 at 7:50 am - Reply

      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.

  6. eva harp August 9, 2011 at 8:23 am - Reply

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

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. August 9, 2011 at 8:39 am - Reply

      Thanks for stopping by Eva:)

  7. Barbara August 9, 2011 at 8:27 am - Reply

    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. August 9, 2011 at 8:38 am - Reply

      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:)

  8. wordplayhouse™ August 9, 2011 at 8:40 am - Reply

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

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. August 9, 2011 at 9:29 am - Reply

      Very open ended:)

  9. Sarah August 9, 2011 at 9:10 am - Reply

    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. August 9, 2011 at 9:28 am - Reply

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

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. August 9, 2011 at 1:55 pm - Reply

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

  10. sara August 9, 2011 at 9:36 am - Reply

    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. August 9, 2011 at 1:56 pm - Reply

      Great! I hope the boys enjoy it!

  11. 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. August 9, 2011 at 1:57 pm - Reply

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

  12. Scott August 9, 2011 at 10:54 am - Reply

    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. August 9, 2011 at 1:57 pm - Reply

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

  13. Home School Coach August 9, 2011 at 8:51 pm - Reply

    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. August 9, 2011 at 11:33 pm - Reply

      Thanks for passing it along:)

  14. Traycee Bedford August 9, 2011 at 10:02 pm - Reply

    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. August 9, 2011 at 11:33 pm - Reply

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

  15. magnet printing August 9, 2011 at 10:14 pm - Reply

    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. August 9, 2011 at 11:33 pm - Reply

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

  16. heather August 10, 2011 at 12:23 am - Reply

    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. August 10, 2011 at 1:11 am - Reply

      Thanks for stopping by here too:)

  17. Janet August 10, 2011 at 5:35 am - Reply

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

  18. Mombeam August 10, 2011 at 12:12 pm - Reply

    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. August 10, 2011 at 12:15 pm - Reply

      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.

  19. Jennifer September 17, 2011 at 9:52 pm - Reply

    Great idea!

  20. Love and Lollipops September 22, 2011 at 7:07 am - Reply

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

    Georgia 🙂

  21. Melissa @ The Chocolate Muffin Tree September 27, 2011 at 6:14 pm - Reply

    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. September 27, 2011 at 7:11 pm - Reply

      We LOVE these!

  22. Joyce @Dinosaurs And Octopuses November 22, 2011 at 12:18 pm - Reply

    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. November 22, 2011 at 3:11 pm - Reply

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

  23. Mrs. P February 11, 2012 at 8:31 am - Reply

    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. February 11, 2012 at 12:00 pm - Reply

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

  24. […] DIY Magnetic Play Set– For your little builders, try out these amazing magnetic blocks from Teach […]

  25. Linda June 12, 2017 at 11:11 pm - Reply

    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. June 13, 2017 at 7:06 am - Reply

      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..

  26. Sue April 17, 2018 at 7:20 am - Reply

    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.

Leave A Comment

This site uses 'cookies' to give you the best, most relevant experience. Using the website means you're OK with this. Ok