Thursday, December 27, 2012

Review and Giveaway: The New Sifteo Cubes: Get the Gift You Really Wanted

Sifteos: It helps us to think through, and to problem solve, essentially at a higher level - Dr. Gayle Herman, Child Psychologist  photo: Sifteo

WHAT: The New Sifteo Cubes

DOES: The closest that any video game has ever come to TRUE multi-sensory fun and learning.  
INVEST: MSRP  $129.95
TOOLS:  Think Like a Scientist/Engineer, My Body Needs to Move, Holiday/Birthday Build-Uponner, Flexibility is My Superpower, Foment the Love of Language
AGES: 8+  (our 5-year-old plays with them too but most games are for 7+ so far)
EXPERT OPINION: Dr. Gayle Herman, Child Psychologist
GIVEAWAY: one whole set shipped to you (U.S. only) DETAILS BELOW 

Imagine having a bowl of your favorite butternut squash or cream of anything soup.  You smell it, you see the rich color and steam rising, you dunk and stir your spoon in the bowl, blow it cool, slurp, gulp, and then warm feelings flows down your esophagus to your stomach. From that central spot, happiness travels to various points of your body.   That is what I call a multi-sensory experience.  Each of your senses has picked up information to help you register what this amazing soup was like.

This is probably my favorite game, even though I'm terrible at it. photo: Sifteo

But what if you had to do this instead:  You were still able to see the rich orange color of the soup, smell it, swirl your spoon in the bowl, feel the steam rise to your face but instead of slurping and swallowing, you must put it into a bag and feed yourself through a tube.   True, you would have at least done most of that process described above and I couldn't tell you what it feels like to be tube-fed but I think it is ok to assume, the experience would be so different, that you might prefer one method over the other.  Am I right?  I don't mean this as a joke either.  I've met people with real swallowing issues and feeding tubes are life-saving.

I bring this up because I am not in your living room showing you the Sifteo cubes myself.  No words, no photo, and not even video can do it justice if one is attempting to describe the Sifteo experience but for the sake of my child, I will try my best.

My poor kid reluctantly granting an interview as his mom disturbs his concentration.

I say this review is selfish and written for my child because even in my limited knowledge of technology, I can see that there could be many possibilities to make Sifteos even more amazing than they already are. Additionally, these possibilities are going to make learning more productive for all kids, especially my children. 

Honestly, it feels awkward to  even call them video games because I think that is actually just half of what they are. Perhaps, that's why I don't feel intimidated by this technology.  If anything I embrace it and want to be a part of creating the next game. (Ask my family what a miracle that is- I don't even know how to uninstall that horrible Kick the Buddy app that my child put on my Android)

I like how you can expand play beyond just buying new games.  Getting more cubes means expanding your existing games to bring more challenges and more people. photo: Sifteo

So What's So Different? 

To tackle this question, I needed Dr. Gayle Herman, a child psychologist specializing in neuro-psychological assessments.  She was insightful in explaining to me what it could mean to a child to have a video game in which the components are tactile, flippable, shiftable, shakable, and tiltable.  I wanted to make sure she was able to have a lot of time to get a deep look at Sifteo's accelerometer technology, (the part that senses the motion which apparently feels quite the same as the old cubes).  Thus, I requested that Gayle start getting acquainted with Sifteos the way I did - with the original Sifteos rather than both of us cramming to learn about it when it arrived in November.  I do have the new ones now but my kids still play with both sets.

I guess you can make this become "TRIPLE" but are there more words to make?  How about "TRIP" or "PILE"? photo: Sifteo

"Productive" Mistakes

What stands out when it comes to learning?  There are so many things but here is one about problem solving: "the idea of moving around the cubes, instead of having to do it mentally, is really exciting," she said and then discussed how the trial and error experience of using your own hands comes to play. "There’s an active learning component to Sifteos that I really like, where you make productive mistakes and you learn from them."

I really agree with Gayle.  For some (including me), trial and error is the way to go.  When you keep messing up, you end up asking yourself, "What can I do next time?" 
This is an example of cognitive flexibility according to Gayle, when a person doesn't stay stuck, looks at the different options, and learns from mistakes. "Having cognitive flexibility is an adaptive skill - it's an adaptive life and learning skill."

I love this photo of my son!  He rarely has his hands off the cubes when he's playing with them but I love this look which I call: preparing.  He is so happy now that he doesn't need to hook up his cubes to the computer to play. (only for downloading new games)   

Speaking Spatially

Gayle and I also talked about how spatial skills were an integral part of experiencing Sifteos.  For me, this was likely the most attractive quality but Gayle helped me understand my interest more concretely.  For example, in a word game like Word Caravan, players must unscramble letters to make up different words.  But how is this different from say... a worksheet (aside from there being music, lights, and batteries)?  

Gayle said that when we have to do a word unscramble on paper, we wouldn't really have the ability to move letters around with our hands or do trial and error with our pencil.  We'd just have to keep it all in our heads and use working memory and problem solve mentally to do it.  Sifteo's word unscrambling is different. "It frees up your mind to do the problem solving piece," Gayle said. To Gayle, not having to hold all the information in our head meant that Sifteos were indeed a tool via gaming to help represent things (letters, numbers...). "It helps us to think through, and to problem solve, essentially at a higher level," said Gayle.

I love the way Gayle simplifies complex thoughts for me.  Before going into private practice, she worked with hundreds of families at the Marsha Winokur Learning Center at the Jewish Board of Children and Families.  Gayle really is a superhuman neuro-psychological testing machine, that is, she assesses a child's skills in various areas including cognitive, academic, memory, social/emotional, language, and executive functioning. After testing, she often accompanies families to schools to collaborate on ways to meet the individual child's learning needs. 

How Sifteo Stands Out- One Family's Story

My kids have individual learning needs too.  I bet lots of kids do.  But I love how my kid's struggles in writing and his advantages in spatial reasoning have shown me one of Sifteo's greatest assets.  Last year, when Number 1 was struggling to put his thoughts down on paper, one day, I said, "Just write one word in the sentence in your head on this little piece of paper, and write another word on another piece of paper, and just keep doing that.  Don't worry about the order... we can shift them around later."  

Written by my kid during 2nd grade, last year.  He w/couldn't write a complete or even half-complete sentence before these strips of paper.  Here he writes about cruel fishing practices and news media: "The fishing companies will change the way they are doing it because the people will embarrass them." (w. Mom-edits). 

That day.... that fateful day... it seemed like he was on fire.  Being able to SEE, TOUCH, and MOVE his THOUGHTS did for him what Gayle said that Sifteos could do... problem solve at a higher level.  In his case, he formed a sentence that best reflected the depth of his thoughts and I had never seen him write like that before.

Comic Book-ish Reading?

While Gayle and I discussed more pros of which there are so many.  We also talked about what we want from Sifteos in the near and distant future.  She'd like to hear more audio instructions of how to play the games.  I thought so as well but it is important to note that Number 1 Son who doesn't love reading that much, did not feel at all turned off by the written instructions.  I can't tell you if it is because he was so motivated that he read it anyway or if he figured it out over repeated play, or if it was because many of the task assignments or directions are given as part of a story context like a comic book- ooh, I wonder if that was done on purpose to make kids read more?....  (By the way, they give kids plenty of time to read it but kids can skip it with just a tap).

The cube screens and dialogue resemble that of comic books= not intimidating reading. photo: Sifteo

Gayle and I could spend the whole day talking about what we want from Sifteos.  We'd both love to create academic trials to test various theories via Sifteo play.  For example, I really want my son to be able to use the cubes to study vocabulary and spelling words for school quizzes. I bet he could cut his studying time by 50% at the very least.  Wouldn't it be great to be able to not only study for but DARE I SAY..... even show your answer via the cubes?  Who says you have to write it down?  That is just one way to show what you know. I personally like to show what I know through show choir song and dance but no one has expressed interest in that so I have resorted to typing.

The newest game: b!eep!     There are more new games in store.  I already bought my 20 credit pack! photo: Sifteo

There is something very positive about these cubes.  
I could go on and on but I will wait to make more discoveries to share here.   I want to tell you more about the inventors (because I know folks here are curious about them), tell you about how they are giving folks an opportunity to create games for them, and also tell you what it is like to have more cubes!  

This is set that will be provided as the giveaway prize.  Sifteo gaming can be enjoyed from three cubes to twelve cubes. My kids will have the option to "earn" more should they choose to.

Now It's Time to Win Your Own Sifteo Cubes!!!  (Total value $129.95)  Ends 1/17/12   Ships to U.S. addresses only.  Please follow the directions and share your Facebook comments publicly.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Gotta get your own?  We understand!  If you are an Amazonian or thinking of becoming one for just one day, please use my link and place your Sifteos in your cart today to support thoughtful toy reviewing that aims to develop critical skills and encourage natural talents! 

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


  1. A program to help with handwriting would be interesting. Or some math skills. I am curious about games for younger kids.

  2. Very interested in these for my 4year old and 10year old.

  3. Will they be making add on cubes?

  4. they have that for sure but I'm sure they could have more!

  5. Gianna, I suggest you visit and go straight to the SHOP section. There are add-on cubes but there are also a set of six cubes for $199.95 which I think is an awesome deal. I don't see that available on Amazon.

  6. I think Cube Buddies is for the younger ones. at least for now. My five year old can do the word unscramble games to an extent. I would soooo love to see something happening with handwriting. I wonder if they can make the cube have an attachment to encourage the correct grasp. Is that silly of me?

  7. Games for younger kids so the whole family can enjoy them. Also learning games featuring familiar characters would be a hit

  8. My daughter is learning Chinese and this would be a great tool for her to move around Chinese characters and compose new words.

  9. Does your son play this alone most of the time, or with other friends/his brother? Are there specific games for multiple players? I have an only child and it would be great if she could make it an interactive game to play during playdates.

  10. My question about the cubes: Is there an easy way they could be incorporated into studying? In my dream world, teachers would provide games to reinforce what's taught in class. I'm thinking sort of like but more interactive - more game like. My son will remember info he's learned from online educational games much more readily than what's taught in class.

  11. Developer request: A way to align the game with rewards. So if son does a, b, and c, he'll get to play X minutes until the game is locked out. Or he'll get to play a super desired game.

    So glad I've finally been able to enter! We have had internet issues this week and every time I've tried, my internet has stalled!

  12. Hello everyone, this message is especially for parents who wants to see their ideas on Sifteos Cubes. There's a experimental gameplay competition on January-February and a lot of developers will try to come up with the next best game on Sifteos. So I wanted to inform you about this sites so that you can twit about your ideas, comment on the game designers page to make them think about your idea and even inspire them with the things you want to see... I hope that will help the community.

    You can get more info on

    and twit to @_egp_ to get a RT for spreading the word. I'm so happy to see this post. If I can have time, I want to be in the competition and make games ,sure I'll take your ideas in to account.

  13. Question- could SIfteos be the answer for a girl gamer that always loved puzzle games and sequencing games (Tetris, Puzzle Bobble, Space Channel 5), but hasn't really loved a game system since the Dreamcast?/!! I used to LOVE the little mini games that you could play in the tiny screen on the Dreamcast controller!

  14. My dream game requests would be that of Virtual Montessori Children's House Materials- maybe something like the Color Tablets/Boxes

  15. no... they may not create movement but do a helluva job at sensing it.

  16. Really hoping this can help my son with his spelling and writing.

  17. Jason,
    I love your comment. It's hard to say what could help but here's what I know. When my son, who could use some serious practice on spelling and writing, plays WORD CARAVAN, a word scramble game on Sifteos, he starts to sounds out words and play around with the letters, and feels great when he accomplishes this goal. I believe he is learning spelling and writing but he's doing it in a way that best utilizes his strengths. Paper word scrambles don't quite cut it. It doesn't involve my son's penchant for movement. Let me know if you have trouble finding a video of how Word Caravan is played.