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When I first started thinking about home education, I felt the usual parental panic as to whether I could really give my children a top notch education. I was lucky that I had a strong background in child development, but I still started reading every book and theory going on early education. Literacy was an easy topic for me to grasp and understand, art allows for a lot of freedom and several possible means of instruction, science seemed to come naturally for us, and history to me is just learning from our past mistakes, and enjoying the rich and varied stories of our own and other cultures. Buts maths and geometry were difficult for me to grasp. Still I knew I wanted more than rote learning. A child learns differently through experience and one of the prevalent theories I encountered in teaching geometry was the Van Heile Model.
Van Hiele thought than when a a child learned by rote, rather than experience they would be unable to apply these concepts in a new situation. He listed clear stages of development of awareness of geometry, with competence at each stage being required to develop full competence at the next. I'm afraid much of this went over my head, but I did grasp the need for manipulatives, for the child to physically connect with mathematical facts and base learning on their own experiences. Among the manipulatives usually suggested for development of spatial and geometric reasoning are tangram puzzles and pattern blocks. These items are apparently used more in the curriculums of Eastern countries, particularly Russia and China, but they are also very popular in Montessori and Steiner - Waldorf education, and they are beginning to become more popular in many other schools as well.
I won't pretend to understand all of the benefits to using toys like this, but I do believe these toys help children understand how shapes can fit together to form other shapes, how to form patterns and designs, and to recognise the shapes by feel as well as sight. But on top of that - they are just plain fun. These shapes allow for so much artistic expression. A jigsaw puzzle can only go together in one way, but a pattern block can make endless different pictures. The sets can also be used to teach the names of shapes, and to teach fractions.
WHAT'S IN THE BAG ?
This set comes in a clear plastic case. there is framed magnetic whiteboard measuring roughly 13 3/4 " x 11 1/2". A wee space at the top of the frame allows you to slide a pre printed sheet into the frame and create one of 12 included geometric designs. These designs are printed on fairly thick paper, but it is still paper, and I expect over time will wear out. However, you can find countless designs online to print up if you wish, and if concerned, you could always scan and print an extra copy of these to put away. There are also a few books available on Amazon which focus on teaching maths through pattern blocks. I believe these paper designs are only meant to get you started. And of course you can create an unlimited number of designs on your own.
You also get 120 geometric magnets. These are made of a press board type material. There is a thin magnetic sheet on the back, and a coloured sheet over the front. I do not believe these magnets would survive much exposure to moisture, they certainly would not survive teething on. The magnets on the back are very weak, but more than sufficient to hold the pieces to the white board. These really would not suit for games of magnetic attraction, but they work perfectly for their intended purpose. I suspect these have deliberatley been made with weaker magnets as a safety factor.
One problem some reviewers have mentioned is that the shapes do not fit perfectly together. This is true and the result of the manufacturer sightly rounding the corners on each piece. I do have a home made tangram puzzle, and the wooden corners are rather sharp. It does make for a tighter fit, but I can certainly understanding the manufacturer opting for a safer alternative, especially with current health and safety laws and the likelihood of legal action should a child be hurt. The more precise blocks with sharper edges are fine if a parent is sitting down with a child and supervising at all times, but for a mass produced toy, which could be used in many settings, I feel this is a better option. The gap between parts is incredibly small, and really only at the corners. This might be more of an issue with non magnetic blocks, which could slide apart and be hard to line up, but with this set, I really do not feel that this is a fault.
Both of my boys enjoyed playing with these, although I intended this more for my youngest ( age 4). After watching my oldest interact with these though, I have just ordered a book for older children using these to teach maths, and I only wish I had bought these sooner. We used the pre printed designs which even the youngest could complete on their own, and then made up many more designs of our own. I had considered many types of pattern block sets, but ended up choosing this one because of the magnetic backing. I find this makes it much easier for a young child to use as the pieces are not sliding all over the place, and you can even hang the picture up for display when you are finished.
I feel that this is a set which encourages creativity and offers quite a lot of play value as it is so versatile in its use. It isn't something the children make a few times and grow bored with as their are always new designs to create. These are expensive, with Amazon listing these twice, one option showing only Marketplace sellers with prices from £17.08 and another with Amazon selling this directly for £16.88 and Marketplace sellers running slightly less. I paid £14.98 including postage through Amazon Marketplace and this price is still available. I did consider rating down due to price, but considering the amount of fun we have had with this toy, and the educational value as well, I really do feel it has been value for money. This is a set I expect to use for years to come.
As much as I enjoy this set, I do feel this is best suited for home use. I think these are sturdy enough for normal play, but I don't think they would take a lot of abuse. I think a plastic set would probably suit a nursery group better. We take the pieces of this out only when they will be used and carefully put them away when finished. Still I am perfectly happy with these and may even buy a second set at some point to have extra pieces.
This is intended for children over age 3 only. There are small parts that could easily be swallowed. I do not believe the magnets in this set are powerful enough to become joined through a bit of intestine, and I have checked to make sure that you can not attach more than two magnets together, so a large number of magnets could not hook up causing intestinal blockage, but this is only my opinion and better to err on the side of caution. This package does very clearly state - in very tiny print - "WARNING! This product contains magnets or magnetic components. Magnets sticking together or to a metallic part inside the body can cause serious or fatal injury". This is in accordance with EU guidelines for all magnetic toys. I would not go so much by age as by the behaviour of the child. If your child still mouths small toys - this set is not appropriate.