Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Pattern Blocks: Loving A Classic

By virtue of being sick for four days and in need of the kind of cheering up that can only come from a new toy, my soon-to-be five year old son came into a Hot Wheels Octo Blaster thing last week.  He'd seen the commercials on television - you know, the ones filmed in slow motion so every choreographed crash is drawn out over five seconds. It really did give my heart a lift to see him so grateful and excited, though I knew that the box would be the most exciting thing about this toy. It was almost a foregone conclusion that the tentacle arms didn't shoot out blasts of water as promised, or that the colour shifting properties required a bath in water hot enough to make a cup of tea followed by a dip in a tank filled with water chilled with six Freezies. Within fifteen minutes the kitchen floor and his pyjamas were soaked and he'd wandered off to the living room...with the empty cardboard box.

Oh Octo Blast. I know your type. All flash and no substance. A classic TV toy. All your money spent on a big self-promoting commercial and none put into actually making yourself fun. Sigh. My kids have heard the rant before but until they experience firsthand the disappointment of a TV toy, they won't believe. So while I'd like to spare them the grief of a birthday wish wasted I know that I can't, not totally. Life is funny like that. What I can do is shine a light on toys that are actually interesting and fun to play with - toys that don't have their own TV commercials, catchy jingles and licensed pyjama deals - and bring some deserved attention to these laidback heroes of the playroom.

Let's take a look at Melissa & Doug's Animal Pattern Blocks, shall we? I love toys that work for different ages, so even if the box says ages three and up a five, six or seven year old could still play with it. Pattern blocks are an elementary teacher staple. The geometric shapes make them a perfect fit for primary math curriculum, but pre-kindergarten kids will also find them absorbing and satisfying. Some of the skills practiced through playing with pattern blocks:

  • experience how shapes work together and create new shapes
  • increase pattern recognition
  • practice shape recognition
  • master color recognition
  • learn beginning math concepts
  • practice creativity and problem solving - it takes some dexterity to place the tiles without disturbing other tiles, and also to determine which shape is needed to complete the scene.

The Melissa & Doug Animal Pattern Blocks set is nicely packaged and priced at $19.99. It comes with five double-sided animal scenes and 47 multi-shaped pattern blocks. It has an age rating of 3 years+. As a parent, I'd say this set could go easily to age five and maybe up to six before it becomes too easy or the animal patterns too juvenile.

There are some terrific alternative play ideas for Pattern Blocks here, from simple colour grouping and shape sorting for young kids to free-play ideas for older kids.

Pattern Block Templates:
If you already own pattern blocks and need some new patterns to play with, try Pattern Blocks Downloads. They have a bunch of free geometric templates, if your child is ready for a more challenging design.