We’re gearing up for a big unit study on blocks and building, so I wanted to share with you some of our favourite blocks and building materials so that you can begin to consider a building corner of your own.
A big set of Tegu blocks was our “big” Christmas gift last year, and easily the gift that I was most excited to order for Ella. All of the children at Child’s Garden Montessori love them, and they have proven to be a great investment.
Tegu are simply magnetized wooden blocks, but they offer so much in terms of building potential and STEM learning.
They allow children to understand the forces of polarity (as the magnet ends must be matched up properly in order to stick together), and build as they would with normal blocks, but also build in ways that defy gravity, allowing children to use their imaginations to create anything that modern architecture could allow.
Although I think that wooden blocks are always a worthwhile investment, I will say that Tegu blocks are expensive. Not only are they a premium toy product, but they are a company that supports charity initiatives, so the blocks reflect that in their pricing. Tegu blocks range in cost between $2.30-$4 per block, while my other (non-magnetized) wooden blocks ranged between $0.20-$1.16 each. Tegu has made strong efforts to be transparent in their charitable efforts, and for every toy purchased customers choose between two of Tegu’s charitable initiatives: planting 12 trees or paying for a day of school for a Honduran child who would otherwise be working at the city dump. Customers can even choose to add additional charitable efforts (more trees or more days) onto their orders for a small cost ($5 for an additional 36 trees or $15 for a day of school).
Personally, even if the cost didn’t also include a charitable element, I think they are well worth the expense. I have seen these blocks get banged around by all of the children for the past year, and they are still going strong. No chips, dents, or visible wear and tear. (People probably think the kids don’t use them because they still look so vibrant and new. I promise, they get lots of use!)
The blocks are gorgeous. We went with the Tints set which has a mixture of pastel and natural-coloured blocks and I love what our basket of Tegu adds to our playroom. (The sets come in sturdy cardboard packaging, but my basket collection is obscene.) The finish is non-toxic and allows the natural grain of the wood to show through.
I was a little worried that the blocks might be damaging to electronics, as most magnets are, and Tegu actually addresses that in their FAQ — they are safe for occassional (accidental) electronics exposure, which is reassuring as who wants to constantly supervise/police block play?
Just like with the Montessori Pink Tower and Brown Stairs, I like to set out “extension cards” for the Tegu blocks: little pictures of designs that can be made with the blocks for the children to attempt on their own, like a 3-D puzzle. I like that this gets them thinking about different uses and creations with the blocks, and I find that after the children have managed to perfect a couple of the designs from the cards they are more adventurous in their own building!
While I love the representations that Ella has created of animals, structures, etc, my favourite item that she constantly builds with these blocks are cars! The magnetic wheels actually work properly and allow children to build cars that they can actually zoom around! For most kits, the wheels are an add-on item, but the play possibilities that they add to the blocks make them worth it for me.
We’ve also travelled with a few of the Tegu blocks, which was awesome. None of the blocks got lost (they stick to each other, after all) and it allowed Ella to have a tactile “building” toy in a confined, moving vehicle. One of the smaller sets would be a great idea for an airplane (distraction) gift, or for a family that spends a lot of time on the road.
As with any good quality wooden block set, Tegu blocks last. I have a client who purchased a set several years ago and all of the blocks have held up well. I split the Classroom Kit with a few friends with children at different ages and with different “play personalities,” and no one has reported any issues. If you have friends who are also interested in purchasing Tegu blocks, splitting the Classroom Kit is the best option that I would recommend. While you might pay less purchasing a smaller set on Amazon, the Classroom Kit has more variety, which was worth the extra cost for me, and now that I’m running Child’s Garden Montessori, I would have bought the Classroom Kit on my own had I not shared with friends.
If you didn’t have friends who were interested in splitting an order, my recommended Tegu purchases for different budgets would be:
- The Dart car set, $38, includes 15 pieces: 4 long planks, 4 short planks, 4 magnetic wooden wheels, 2 cubes, and 1 styling top (to make it “look” like a car). This set could be used for several small structures or figures — not just cars!
- Endeavour set, $54, includes 22 pieces: 6 mega planks, 4 long planks, 8 medium columns, and 4 short planks
- Endeavour set plus add-on wheels and cubes, $54 + $21 + $12 = $87, includes 30 pieces: 6 mega planks, 4 long planks, 8 medium columns, and 4 short planks PLUS 4 wheels and 4 cubes
- Explorer set, $103, includes 40 pieces: 4 large columns, 8 mega planks, 8 long planks, 4 medium columns, 4 small trapezoids, 4 large trapezoids and 8 short planks
There are other sets and other combination possibilities, but I think these combinations give the best bang for your buck.
So, what do you think? What would an essential material be for your own building corner?