April 26, 2016
Magnatiles are magnetic tiles. They are one of the hottest STEM toys out there!
Last week, I sat my daughter down with her box of Magnatiles. Then I went to go clean up in the kitchen. A few minutes later, she called out, “See, Mama, see! Don’t destroy it!”
I came to see. It. Was. Spectacular.
I mean, she’s not even 2.5 yet. I’m over 30, and I’m not sure I could make something that cool. Half serious.
To be fair, I don’t think she sat down and thought, Hm, I think I’m going to create an awesome mansion castle building thing. Let me create a solid foundation using a combination of squares and right triangles. Now I will build a spire with these isosceles triangles, and mini decorative towers here with four equilateral triangles… ah. Yes. My vision is complete. Mother, come hither.
I’m pretty sure her thought process was more like, I’m going to build a crib. And when she ran out of squares to build up the sides of the crib, she made some out of right triangles. And when she ran out of those, she started sticking other triangles here and there and then she ran out of tiles and lo and behold… her creation looked cool, and her mouth said, “See, Mama, see! Don’t destroy it!”
If you asked me five months ago if I thought she’d be able to make that, the answer would be a clear, flat, no. Because five months ago, she had just opened this box and could only figure out how to play with it in 2D. I was a little disappointed, because this thing is not cheap and I had been hanging onto it for months in anticipation of the time when she’d be ready for it, and it seemed like she still wasn’t old enough to really make something of it.
But then the teacher in me kicked in, and I decided to give her the tools to do more with it. Of course these are open-ended toys and part of the beauty of it is to not make it too structured and instead allow for open-ended play. There’s a lot to be said for letting her just explore and learn things on her own, too. But I felt like if I didn’t intervene and start giving her some “building blocks” for new ways to use these, she’d lose interest and we’d miss an optimal window of learning and she’d put them aside and forget about them.
Teaching philosophies aside, I figure some of you might have some Magnatiles at home and be thinking, “Okay, my kid’s kind of played out with these. Now what?” So I thought I’d share the steps we took in teaching her ways to play with Magnatiles that led, five months later, to her building this all on her own!
First of all, Ben and I often got on the floor and played with her when it was time for Magnatiles. Ben’s natural enthusiasm for the toy rubbed off on her, and she was always excited about “family building time.” He built all sorts of amazing things:
And I made uh… restaurants:
And a resort:
(…which I did not allow her to destroy for a whole day haha :)).
I think our involvement was key in helping her be enthusiastic about it. It also helped me key in on building block skills I could teach her to widen her scope of play. Let me share with you.
- Just let her play. Watch as she learns about magnets, how they attract, and which shapes fit together really well side by side (squares, equilateral triangles, sides a and b on the right triangles, etc.) and which ones don’t.
- Building up. Early on, she loved to build walls up. Up and up and up. She could grab those squares and build up nearly as tall as she was.
- Sturdy corners.
As we explored with bigger bases, she found that her walls would keep collapsing and falling flat. When she started to get frustrated, I’d try to show her how I started by making a corner, which provided a sturdy starting point to continue a wall from. It took a little while, but eventually she learned how to do it on her own instead of starting at an arbitrary point in the middle of a side.
- Involve your friends. And by friends, I don’t exactly mean Uncle Daniel, sitting in the living room creating spaceships. I’m referring to the little stuffed animals and finger puppets that approached us one day and asked us to build them a crib. A CRIB! She was so excited, and cribs were made.
This breathed new life into the toy and gave them renewed purpose. Bringing her miniature friends into the action opened up a whole new dimension of imaginative play. We made slides, tables, apartments, houses, stores (where she displayed her toy food on Magnatile shelves), restaurants, picnics, resorts, and many, many cribs. Cribs are still her favorite thing to make. They started off simple enough (rectangular base, use squares to make walls), but as you can see, they got upgraded over time.
- Making polyhedrons. After she had mastered all things boxy, I decided it was time to start getting her learning some fourth grade math. Polyhedrons. I’d set up nets for her to pull up and make polyhedrons with:
- Cubes: Lay out six squares flat, in the shape of a cross.
Let her use her corner/wall-building skills to pull up four sides of a square, and top it off to make a cube. Experiment with different ways of making cubes. Keep calling it a cube. They pick up on your vocabulary more quickly than you think!
- Pyramids: Lay down a square. Attach equilateral triangles on all four sides, then have her connect them together to create a pyramid.
Repeat with isosceles triangles.
In toddler world, this is universally recognized as a Christmas tree.
Experiment with right triangles (doesn’t work the same way, but they learn from this too!). Experiment with equilateral triangles as a base,
or making hexagonal bases (using six equilateral triangles) and pulling up sides using isosceles triangles. Sometimes I would just lay out a whole bunch of these nets and let her just keep pulling up the sides to make pyramid after pyramid after pyramid. It was satisfying for her every time! Then I’d start disconnecting one or two of the triangles so she had to first join them to complete the net before connecting the sides, and continued that way in the scaffolding process until she could make them herself.
- After pyramids and cubes, we moved onto other prisms (rectangular prisms, hexagonal prisms, etc.).
- Making more squares. One time we were building a huge crib for one of her bigger stuffed animals, and she ran out of squares. There was a gaping section left open and it was unsettling to both of us. So I showed her how to put two right triangles together to make a square.
I had to remind her of this technique a couple more times later on, but her recent creation shows me she’s now got it down.
- Providing supports. To keep things from collapsing. Even though we’d been doing it for a while, I was still like :O when, one day, she said to me, “No, don’t put it there yet, it needs more support.” Well, alrighty then.
- Using your imagination. Ben has made ice cream cones *lick lick* and ramps for her little cars (and zebras on wheels) with her. I’ve built bakeries and made dogs. It’s a great way to encourage her use her imagination. I’ve tried looking for ideas online, and while it’s fun and very cool to copy neat things other people came up with, that kind of play is probably more appropriate for when she’s older and can actually look at and copy things. At this stage, it’s great to encourage her to explore-play and learn and have fun through that.
I think in the future, we’ll move on to things like symmetry and other more complex structures, but at least for now she has a fun foundation that allows her to create really fun cribs :). As a former fourth grade teacher, I can definitely vouch for this as an awesome toy that will strengthen their visual/spatial skills, especially when they hit geometry! If you have (or are planning to get) Magnatiles, I hope this gives you some ideas for how to open up more play with your toddler!