Thursday, January 17, 2013

Which Magnetic Building Set is Your Favorite?

PROBLEM: New Reader perplexed over which magnetic building set to invest in for her child
RESULT: Awesome Readers of Toys are Tools Offer Their Wisdom Via Facebook
TOOLS:  This story pretty has every tool of the toolbox- Thank you to the readers!!!
See Jenn's answer here.

Samantha, a brand new reader wrote an email a few days ago and asked me a question that was very difficult for me to answer.  She asks to advise her on which toy might be better for her son.  If she knew me well, she'd probably know that answering this could cause me a lot of pain. I can't ever put my finger on anything.  Saying nice things about good stuff is easy.  Choosing one over another is extra hard for flakes like me.  Here's her question:

My son is turning 2 in another month and I am looking at birthday gifts. He loves to build things, especially towers. We currently have a set of megablocks and a set of duplos, both of which he loves. I want to get him some other type of building set but I don't know which one is most appropriate for his age. We have a very small set of wooden building blocks but they do not get a lot of use because the set is so small. I am really debating between a set of Tegu blocks or a set of SmartMax magnetic pieces. I also didn't know if I should just add and create a large set of basic wooden building blocks. I think my son would like the magnetic quality of both the Tegu and SmartMax sets, especially because his towers might not fall as easily :-) But I was wondering what you might suggest?--- Samantha

First, may I say that Samantha is one cool lady.  How thoughtful she is!!!   I was tempted to tackle the question right away but then I thought it might be better to read suggestions from avid fans for both toys.  Would the readers here care enough to extend some helpful advice?  Well, let's just say that I was blown away. 

SmartMax automobile sets are very concrete.  I love those silver balls. They are not magnetic, just metallic and very lightweight.

Okay, here's my answer Samantha!!!  I am using the clues that you shared with me in your email:

Past toy history:
You mentioned Legos and Mega Blocks.  Good for you for looking into current likes to give you clues to the future likes.  However, you should know that he may like neither as much as he likes Legos and Mega Blocks.  Both blocks specifically snap together and that is a satisfaction that neither SmartMax nor Tegu offer.  Rather, the magnetic toys offer a different feeling. Consider it a cross between feeling a quick tug and a small "collision" that a child experiences because that is how you feel when you connect magnets to another magnet or metal.

Who knows what this is but it's cute!   Note, Tegu sells new and improved wheels now. Mahogany is my favorite color!

Age Appropriate for the 2s:
Both toys are definitely appropriate for 2.  In fact, I would suggest that after he seems to have done all that he can do with them, you can either get more pieces or put them away for a couple of months.  Kids are acquiring new skills as they grow up and so when your toys "return" from their "vacation," your child may play with them in a different and likely more advanced way.  Watching them play at that point is like unwrapping a gift - a gift for you.

Building Towers with Tegu and SmartMax:
At the age of two, I think building real towers with either set will be tough. You may not be stacking one of top of the other so much.  You can do it with Tegu cubes but you would want to have a lot of cubes. If you want your child to keep stacking block on top of block but you don't them to fall down easily then you will like blocks that snap together (like Duplos) because building vertically can be good with them.

Also, at this age, you will see pretend play skills starting to emerge and both Tegu and SmartMax are great for that.  With Tegu, the representation will likely be more abstract.  Even if you make a car with Tegu (totally recommend you get the wheels), there isn't a windshield or a pre-made container or scooper or loader like the SmartMax toys. There is more left to the imagination and that may or may not be a good thing.

Some kids might want to see something a bit more concrete and SmartMax cars with their wheel attachments and other attachments like windshield, propellers.. do appear like a car or a pick-up or a fire engine... etc.  Some kids may want that instead and their creativity could be more exercised in the "plot" of their pretend play.

Grow the Wooden Basics Instead?:  The Build-Uponner Question:
What a great question!  Generally, I prefer to grow successful sets instead of investing in new sets.  I think so much can be gained by staying with one or two sets rather than getting a bunch of sets from different companies.  If he tired of the wooden blocks too quickly then it might be a good idea to try the magnetics.  You are able to build in a completely different way.  My second son, not so great a builder, is now building simple Lego kits at five and will not stop asking me for the Lego Hillside House! ARGH!!  You can say SmartMax and Tegu were his teachers.

However, please note that one difference between Tegu and SmartMax is that SmartMax does have more of a variety of products in terms of adding onto the set.  Thus, if you were preparing a birthday party for him and was asked for ideas then you can literally say, "Get him something from SmartMax" and the person would have choices with price tags that look like $14.99 or $24.99 and for the big spending grandparents they could add on to his collection of rods and balls.  The more you spend, the more you get per dollar. Additionally, another great quality of SmartMax is you can make very pretty 3D mathematical sculptures with it.

That said, one special quality of Tegu is the material.  Tegu is made of wood and their magnetic pieces are smaller but still not too small.  Without any wheels, you can create lots of "stories" because two small rectangles and two cubes easily symbolize a person. 


You may hate me for this but it is the best answer I can give:

1. Go with your gut - I believe that our intuition is more powerful than we think.  The truth is that both toys are winners.  And if your child enjoys playing with them which I believe he will, then you will have made a good choice.  However, with all due respect, I must share that I need to learn about my own children still who are are growing and changing all the time (TOO FAST!).  Just like how I don't know what will be Number 1's favorite subject in middle school, I think it will be hard for either of us to predict what will be a hit for your little guy. You may get Tegu and find that he likes SmartMax more but then a year later, he is all over the Tegu.  If that happens, try to laugh a little.  They are so unpredictable and sometimes that is a good thing, right? Only sometimes....

2. Can't Decide? Then Just Pick Your Favorite!  Why?  Because as his parent, you are teaching him how to play by playing with him.  You are not making a lesson out of it but the way you play will influence how he plays and explores.  And right now.... Play is a really big deal for a little guy like him.  So if you prefer one set more than the other then you are likely to play with him longer and there is nothing better for him!  I hate myself for saying this because my kids would be the first to tell you how their mom should play with them more.  But at the end of the day, time well spent with loved ones rather than what is in his toy box will be what influences him the most.  Judging from the thoughtfulness of your email, I have a feeling that he's a kid that already has it all.

Happy birthday to your lucky little guy!!!  Thank you for your awesome question!

They are so precious aren't they?  Part of the fun is trying to guess who'll they'll become. Can't wait to buy more toys for my friend's son, Jack.

For those of you who missed the wise parents who chimed in to help Samantha, click here onto the Facebook post to read the discussion.  Thank you to Jiming, Lisa, Vivienne, Jenny, Christina, and Rachel for your wonderful advice.  I learned so much from you. -Jenn

Some awesome SmartMax and Tegu sets.  Please use my link to support Toys are Tools!

Disclosure:  Toys are Tools has not been compensated in any way by the manufacturer of this product.  The products were sent to the tester in order to facilitate past reviews. Reviews are never promised.

1 comment:

  1. What an awesome community you have built here!