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  • Neyir Urminsky

Gift Guide for the Kid Who Loves Math, Science & Building

Toys, toys, toys…..I have been at this toy thing for 15 years now. The guessing game of which toy is the ‘right’ toy, will they like it, is it educational, will they play with it? All great questions but the more children that I had the more the questions evolved. All the above remained of course but others entered the equation. Does it have longevity? Will they keep playing with it month after month? Is it easily shared, co-operative? How hard is it to clean up, can they do that alone or will it require adult support for some time? Is the toy defunct if we lose one or a few pieces? Can pieces be replaced (Lego is particularly good for this). When they are done with it will it be in decent enough condition to give or donate keeping it out of landfill. Then the holy grail of questions, is this a toy I might be willing to keep around long term for younger visitors and eventual grandchildren?


So when I started to think about a gift guide the natural first step was to stick with what I know well and what I know very well are the toys that my kids, all who love to build and investigate, have returned to over the years. My 4 do not have the same interests though there are certain common threads. I have 2 who are very, very imaginative and 2 who are more technical but overall the toys in this guide have engaged all of them. Many of these toys have been played with at different ages and stages and in different ways. They all fit my criteria above, some we have had for years and some are newer to us or on my list. I will add that I did not cover Lego at all, that is a completely different post but we have an absurd amount and it is the other constant in our house!


Without further ado I give you the KCB Gift Guide For The Kid Who Loves Math, Science And Building. There is a US clickable guide and a Canadian one show on the top right.



1. Turing Tumble - This one is the tippy top of my list for sure! It was one of those that came up on my FB ads and I bought it for my then 8 yo 2 Christmases ago. I loved everything I saw online including the glowing reviews and my PhD Math, coding husband was really excited by this ‘....computer’. While this toy does come with lots of small pieces it is everything you could want in a toy. It is about as educational as it gets, teaching coding in a screen free, offline way. It is very well packaged - no wasted space which I love and everything goes back to its own place! It can be used for free play and exploration and comes with a narrative book with a main character involving harder and harder challenges. I have had kids from 6-13 play with it and it is a fav for taking into school (though I do limit the number of mini marbles that go in!). Which brings me to another of my fav features. YOU CAN ORDER REPLACEMENT PARTS!!!! I am sorry to be yelling but this is such a big deal for me!!!! It means that the toys has incredible longevity and it sooooo much more environmental because it doesn’t need to be thrown out when pieces get lost or broken because they were left on the floor…….

The company now has a second toy which we were looking into last night and will almost certainly make an appearance this Holiday Season!


2. Gravitrax - This one is certainly in the same vein as above but is all about gravity and magnetism. What I love about this toy which is different from the Turing Tumble is that it is more co-operative. When we opened it last Xmas there was a brief magical period where all 4 of my kids were playing together blissfully! It. Was. Amazing!!!!! Similarly to the Turing Tumble it comes with suggested tracks and challenges. I am not specifically suggesting this set as there are many different ones to choose from. When we got it last year my then 14 yo had specific ideas about which sets to buy and I believe we started with 2. My only complaint with Gravitrax is that it can be a bit tricky to store, ok the cardboard & plexi flat parts don’t fit in my bins and we have to slide them under which bugs me visually….that’s why the toys are behind doors though!


3. National Geographic Rock Tumbler - we actually haven’t bought this yet but it is on the list for this year. I have heard wonderful things about rock tumblers and this one seems to be a solid buy. My boys are always, always collecting rocks and when we were in the Bay of Fundy this past summer we brought many, many, many more home. I love that rocks are included with this set but I am even more excited to see what happens with the rocks we collect out and about!


4. What’s the Point of Math Anyway book - this is a fun sort of math history for kids. Years ago we used to believe that when a child showed strength in something we should enrich and push. While I am definitely a fan of working and encouraging strengths, I also know that when we teach kids past their grade they can get really bored and I bet annoying in school. When we discovered that we had kids that loved math like their Dad we started extending and this was one of our first purchases.


5. US link Marvin’s Amazing Magic Pens - this is pretty old school but we have a similar set and my 10 year old who isn’t hugely into drawing has been having so much fun experimenting. Essentially you can draw anything you want on the page and then go over them with another marker and they change colour! The ones we have only change back to white but I can see we might add these ones in as well.


5b. Can link Staedtler Erasable Ink - this is pretty old school but I picked a few of these sets up at Dollorama of all places and my 10 year old who isn’t hugely into drawing has been having so much fun experimenting. Essentially you can draw anything you want on the page and then go over them with the white marker as an eraser. He is having a great time with them! The product I linked above in the US is also available in Canada.


6. Math Maker Lab book - well I have just discovered that this book is part of a series, so I may have just added those to the Xmas list ;-). Like the book above this is a great one for extending learning and passion. There are lots of fun math based experiments for kids to do. Currently there are friendship bracelets on the go - not sure what the math lesson is in there but I’m all for it!


7. Marble Fun Glow Super Set - You will likely not be surprised that I have opinions on marble runs. I still rue the day that we sold our old set at a neighbourhood garage sale. The twins were under one and my middle was just 5, not sure what I was thinking but likely I was just trying to declutter alllll the things. 2 years ago it was clear the twins would love a marble run and so I started looking. I was disappointed that so many were poorly made and often all the supports were the upside down U shape that I knew from experience were always falling apart. Toys that fall apart require more constant involvement from adults. I’m all for playing with my kids but want to set them up to be creative on their own! This one is the closest to the one we loved. Stable and with the fun spinny bits, plus it glows in the dark!!!!


8. Magnatiles!!!!!!!!! Again not necessarily this set, there are many to choose from. Magnatiles should really have been the second image as it is 100% that toy we will never get rid of. They are essentially flat coloured shapes that connect via internal magnets and they are the best! In our family, magnatiles have been a staple for 11 years. Everyone has played with them and they lend themselves to so many things! Currently they are a lego house, previously they have been car garages, race tracks & pokemon bases. Absolute bonus points if you have a metal coffee table the kids can build on, we used to.


9. Aquarellum - One of the twins spotted this in a bookstore back in the summer and I managed to remember to buy it for their birthday this month! There are lots of different pictures to choose from, we currently own 1 cat set and 1 dinosaur set. What I love about them is that it is ‘real’ painting, the kids get to mix their colours from little pots of colour using a colour chart but the pictures are pre drawn with sections that don’t absorb paint keeping the original outline. So often we believe that if a child cannot draw then they are not creative which is very far from the truth so I love that this is a painting project that takes drawing out of the equation while encouraging creativity, we all know I love paint mixing!

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