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Beginner Building Sets: The Yay to the Nay

Oct26

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the yay to the nayMy daughter has always been a huge fan of traditional wooden building blocks (we’ve got a 60 piece set of standard blocks from Melissa & Doug), so this week I decided to test out some of the more innovative variations on the genre. Apparently, regular wooden blocks are SO TODDLER 2011 and I should get with the times.

It’s interesting how many different skills are tested when the process of putting blocks together changes. While I still think wooden blocks offer the most options for creativity and exploration, these newer varieties offer a lot by way of fine tuning motor, visual and spatial skills.

1.Dado Cubes Review

Dado Cubes ($25) come with 10 plastic cubes, scaled from 1 inch to 5 inches, all nested together. Each cube has a slit in it that interlocks with the other cubes, allowing you to create interesting 3-dimensional structures. Dado says that building with their blocks helps develop visual spatial intelligence which is very important to a child’s development.

I found fitting the slits together to be less than smooth— the plastic pieces often scraping together and getting semi-stuck. The structures you can create are interesting but in the end, they all look very similar. When Mazzy builds with regular blocks, she creates buildings and trains and cities. I don’t think Dado Cubes challenge her imagination in quite the same way. It is more about fitting the slits together and balancing the structure.

Perhaps, if we got more Dado Cubes, there would be larger opportunities to be more creative.

Verdict on Dado Cubes: OKAY

3. Gears! Gears! Gears! Beginner’s Building Set Review

best building toys for kids reviewed

The Learning Resources Gears set ($20) comes with 150 pieces including gears, various connectors, and interlocking bases for beginners to learn a bit of mechanics. Put the pieces together and then use a lever to turn the whole structure at once.

For starters, the interlocking bases are so hard to fit together, I was convinced I was doing something wrong. Nope. Just had to push harder. There is no way for my toddler to do it on her own. Secondly, it seemed very unintuitive how to fit the pieces together, to the point where it just wasn’t that much fun. Mazzy seemed to feel the same, as she was interested initially, liked turning the gears but then got frustrated and hasn’t gone back to play with them again.

If you do decide to buy the gears, I would suggest buying the tub. We got ours in a disposable box and now I have no idea what to do with the 150 pieces currently crowding my living room.

Verdict on Learning Resources Gears set: NAY

3. Magna-Tiles Review

The original Magna-Tiles ($52) set contains 32 translucent plastic tiles with magnetic edges, which can be used to create both two-dimensional and three-dimensional designs. Magna-Tiles say they promote patterning, shape recognition, building and motor skills.

Most importantly, Mazzy adores them. Of the three building sets, she spent by far and away the most time with the Magna-Tiles, coming back to them day after day. She also was every interested in recreating the images on the box— a rocket ship, a castle and a tunnel. And the magnetic nature of the tiles added another dimension to building because it let her create walls and roofs, something she is not able to do with regular blocks.

Also, since the pieces fit together easily (as opposed to the skinny slits of the Dado Cubes and the confusing connector pieces of the Gears), she experienced no frustration while testing out her new skills.

Verdict on Magna-Tiles: YAY

In conclusion, I think using building sets beyond traditional wooden blocks can be very valuable in encouraging and developing new skills. But they are in no way a substitution. New skills are important, but nothing gives the creative freedom to build in an uninhibited fashion like regular old blocks.

About the author


http://www.mommyshorts.com
Ilana Wiles writes Mommy Shorts, a popular NYC humor blog geared towards new parents. In addition to blogging, Ilana has worked as a creative in advertising for the past 15 years. She lives in the East Village of NYC with her husband, her two-year-old daughter and a rapidly growing pile of stuffed animals.


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3 Responses to “Beginner Building Sets: The Yay to the Nay”

  1. Ally Oct 26 at 2:10 pm Reply Reply

    We got the Dado Cubes last year and I was surprisingly disappointed. My kids didn’t like them at all. I think if I bought a few sets of them they may have liked them more, but they are pricey. 

  2. DCGirl Oct 26 at 9:31 pm Reply Reply

    We have a 100-piece and a 32-piece set of Magnatiles. They are the best toy we have ever owned. My kids are 8 and 12 and they both still play with them! 10 years and going strong. Will definitely keep for grandchildren one day!

  3. Lees Nov 01 at 7:56 pm Reply Reply

    These are fine when you have one child, but once you start adding multiple children and you have to wrangle their toys, you learn to stick to one main building system as much as possible because it makes it infinitely easier to clean up. I’ve tried a bunch of building stuff. The one that sticks around in my house has been around since I rode to kindergarten on my dinosaur. It’s cheap at garage sales. It hurts really bad when you step on it. It’s Lego.

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