Thursday, November 29, 2012

Review & Giveaway: Plus-Plus: A Natural Way of Learning

Are you in love or what?   photo: Geared for Imagination

 Plus-Plus from Geared For Imagination

DOES:  opportunity to practice bilateral coordination, creative building in both 2D and 3D, calming little building blocks, a great example of how one shape can do so many things
INVEST:  $9.99; $19.99; $34.99; $59.99 MSRP  (sizes in pieces: 100, 300, 600, 1200)
AGES: 3 and up
TOOLS:  My Body Needs to Move, Think Like a Scientist/Engineer, Social Scene Helper, Express Yourself, Holiday/Birthday Build-Uponner 
EXPERT OPINION: David Wells, Manager, Creative Making and Learning, New York Hall of Science
GIVEAWAY: Win a 600-piece Plus-Plus package in Basic or Neon Colors!  You decide! 
SEE SPECIAL SALE just for us below!!!

David Wells says one of the assets of this toy is the ease in which you can build in 2D and switch over into 3D.  So cool!  photo: Geared for Imagination

When I first saw Plus-Plus online somewhere, I thought they were a bit silly. There are some toys that are just sort of pretty but they don't cut it when it comes to helping a child advance skills.  I mistakenly thought this was one of them until I went to the New York International Gift Fair and stumbled across the Plus-Plus booth.

As soon as I picked them up, I KNEW I WAS SO WRONG.  These were very special and I didn't even know why but I couldn't have cared less because I became obsessed with trying to figure out how to make a small sofa. 

This is my sofa.  You think this would take three seconds. No, it did not.  But there were so many colorful pieces on the table, I had to stay and make a go of it. 
This booth was so packed.  I couldn't even get a chance to talk to the folks because they were too busy taking orders from stores.   Finally, five months later we are doing this review.   This is one hot toy!  I kid you not!

Making the sofa was tough but fun and eventually, I managed to have a set shipped to Number 7: our builder-logical reasoning superduper 1st grader who loves to play and is wildly creative.  He's such a boys' boy, you almost just want to call him BOY.  I figured he would dig the Plus-Plus pieces and I was right! 

His mom even told me how one day, he woke up early in the morning to play.  "He made a snow covered ground and a tree covered in snow taking his inspiration from the view outside the house," she told me.  Wow, that is so amazing.  I would be so proud of my kid if I saw him do that.

Number 7 gets to work on fine motor skills.  1st graders need that.  I think grown-ups do too!  
Isn't he the coolest?  I love that he made these 2D objects stand up on their own!!!

There was something about this toy that was so attractive.  It's hard to say what it is.  But I do not need to stress my brain too much because David Wells from the New York Hall of Science agreed to help me take a deeper look into Plus-Plus.

David brought 300 Plus-Plus pieces to his 7 and 10 year old nephews to try out.  "They were completely into it," he said, "there was not even a second for explanation."   

I've known David for a while now and he is so into letting kids learn on their own.  I was happy to hear about this observation.

How adorable is this?  I just love it.  This blocks are all the same shape but look at what you can do!  photo: Geared for Imagination
It's just a natural way of learning. - David Wells, New York Hall of Science  photo: Geared for Imagination

Zone of Proximal Development

David described the activity between the two brother building with Plus-Plus.  His younger nephew (7) was building flat images but the older one (10) was building in 3D.  As soon as the younger brother caught sight of that, he realized that he could do it too and he did.  

"So that just kind of opened up a whole new world to him within this tool or toy," and David found that interesting.   He described this moment as an example of Lev Vigotsky's theory called Zone of Proximal Development.  

Do you see that there is a red piece for a  nose?  Where is the rest of it?  Inside the shape.   That takes planning and tweaking.  That is what engineering is all about, right?  photo: Geared for Imagination

Plus Siblings, Plus Parents, Plus Grandparents Too?

"He saw something and it opened up a whole new avenue of learning for him."  David said that this is what happens when you don't put up barriers between developmental levels because the older learns from the younger and vice versa.  How cool.  

AND, you know what that means.... if you are looking for something for siblings to play together but there is a gap in age or ability...... I have two words for you: Plus and Plus. (oh, that is just one word)  I think they can be ideal for 3 generations to sit and play together (and adults will really have fun too.. not just pretend to have fun for the kids' sake because I have done that, so have you....) 

Plus-Plus come in various sizes so you can get a small one to try or just go for the big package.  I bought a package of 300 to go with game that I bought for my son's friend.  He is a builder-kid so naturally, I had to get this.  His mom actually knew the brand.  She had seen it in the airport in Singapore.  


David explained this theory further to me, "If you think about the way people learn, it’s rarely by being instructed, spoken to,"he said. "It’s more about seeing and doing."  

Okay, that is all I need to hear.  If there is a toy that is more about seeing and doing then that toy belongs in this house.   So... don't tell my husband.. but I just bought a 1200-piece box for myself.  Maybe I can justify it by saying I will give 30 pieces at a time for meeting behavioral or homework goals.  Oh, I know I'm terrible but I can see my kids using it and then the whole house becoming quiet.  I can see us playing with it together when we are having a "talk." 

photo: Geared for Imagination
Be aware that the product has virtually no instructions and so you may not quite know how to make a flat sheet.  But if you stick to it, you will figure it out.  It's an alternating pattern like, - l - l - l - l.... photo: Geared for Imagination

Which World is the Old World Now?

When I worked as an academic medical publicist, the one thing I heard over and over again when it came to amazing medicines not yet available in the United States was, "They have it in Europe."    I know that this country still has its share of innovators but there is something to be said about what I can only describe as "attitude" or "perspective." I often see toy packaging from Europe as quite wordless and maybe a bit vague - almost to the point that the average American would start scratching their heads.   I find that we like things to come in their own container, giving us step-by-step directions for everything, basically... there is a lot of communication. 

But European toys, in my experience, are not like that. I mention this because the cultural difference could almost make you forget about the toy and concentrate on the packaging and instructions.  If you find yourself feeling this way, then use it as an opportunity for us to say, "They have it in Europe AND they have it in America too."  

photo: Geared for Imagination

We all need to be a little bit more flexible to model to our kids what it takes to be globally-minded.  The first way to achieve that is by changing our own perspective. I don't know about you but I cope poorly with change but even I know that there is something to be learned here.  I say this because you might see the package of let's say... the 300 pieces and see that there is no way that this package can contain enough pieces to make the yellow crown as pictured on the box.  Europeans might say, "Of course!  Isn't that obvious?"  Americans may say, "It's misleading!"  I say... Look, this is how it's presented. Just know about it and then move on.  Because if we think about it, it was never about making what is on the box anyway.  It's always about making whatever they make with their minds.  That will always be the most interesting, right?


Visit the Geared For Imagination Online Store and use the code:    TOYSARETOOLS   
It will expire on DEC. 7, 2012
And guess what? Right now there is a promotion of $40 Free Ship Minimum until Saturday Dec 1st!  So make up your mind if you are interested!  Usually the Free Ship Minimum is $50.

BUT MAKE SURE YOU ENTER TO WIN.... this Plus-Plus Package of 600 pieces!!!  (Value $34.99)   
Try the Rafflecopter widget below and remember... please follow the rules... If you are supposed to make a comment on the blog post, the rule of thumb is... if you can't see your comment then, it doesn't count as an entry!   Also, if you have trouble entering Rafflecopter via Facebook, try just using your email address. I'm sorry this system frustrates some of us.  If you have trouble, email me.  I want to help.  This giveaway will only be shipped to U.S. addresses only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Disclosure:  Toys are Tools has not been compensated in any way by the manufacturer of this product.  The product was given to the tester and the expert in order to facilitate a review.  Reviews are never promised.


  1. I have online. I can see my kids making something super mario related.

  2. Instructions are always good and it's fun to see examples on what can be done.

  3. I think each kid is different. some kids want directions and other just can't be bothered. but they don't care if there are directions in the box or not but the ones that want them may get frustrated.

  4. I'd seen this on some special deal sites, but was never impressed with just the image. But the detailed look at how it works and the quality of the materials has made me reconsider. My son with ASD is mildly interested in Legos--but I think Plus-Plus might be an interesting thing to introduce him to.

  5. That has almost been my experience. But after holding them close up in my hands, it made a difference. Here is a picture of a few pieces in a child's hand.

  6. I've never see n Plus-Plus before but I love that it does not come in a theme-kit like Legos.

  7. It would be nice to have some direction with a building toy or a few visual examples to work from, but I am so over the Lego-style this-will-be-a-pirate-ship-PERIOD type of building toy 'kit'. I think if you want that level of external control, you should build models.

  8. this product is new to me, and it made me smile. love the colors, looks like hours of fun.

  9. i think a child should have very little instruction on what to build with building pieces / legos etc. so that their imaginations can run free. BUT i remember how absolutely thrilled i used to be to follow instructions in the lego box. it gave me a great sense of accomplishment as a child. (then, i would do free-building as well...)

  10. This looks like a great toy for my niece and nephew. Always looking for fun, educational toys!