Monday, August 9, 2010

Math Blocks

Our children have spent endless hours building and learning with the Smarcks. To really get the most out of the Smarcks, however, requires parental involvement. When Shane was 4 I would work with him using the Monkey Math Block. If the block said there were 8 monkeys jumping on the bed I would ask him how many were left if one fell off. Then I would ask him to find two blocks that added up to 7. He mastered both the Monkey Math and Addition Block last year. Right now we are focused on the ABC Block (as noted below); after we are done with that I am going to try some new games with the Subtraction Block.

Nicole, on the other hand, is now 4 and has no interest in learning math. She just loves to build. Every child is unique and learns at a different pace and it important to keep that in mind. Whatever we do with the Smarcks it has to be fun. Kids love to learn and it is important to keep it at a pace that makes it fun. Also, whatever our kids do, if it involves Mommy or Daddy it is 10 times more fun and rewarding. The intention with the Smarcks is to combine the creativity of building with learning, fun, and parental involvement.

2-1-2011: Shane continues to ask to learn as soon as I come home from work. After learning a new word tonight he asked to do the subtraction block. Tonight he learned everything with the 5 block (5-5 to 5-0). Afterwards I had him write out all the equations such as 5-2=3. Then I gave him 5 one blocks and told him to show me what 5-4 means. He explained that 5-4 means you take away 4 and he removed 4 of the one blocks to show that there is one left. I want to make sure he understands what minus and subtraction means and he is not just trying to memorize the answers. I wrote the numbers 5, 4, 3, 2 on the sheet with the letters and highlighted the number 5 indicating that he now knows his fives.

2-5-11: Shane now knows all the things the Subtraction Block teaches and completely understands the concept of subtracting numbers. All the numbers on the paper are highlighted and I guess it is time to move on to something more difficult.

Music Blocks

The great thing about the Music Blocks is they appeal to such a wide age range. Our 18 month old, Jenna, bounces up and down when she hears the song and our oldest son, Jared, was innovating with the Music Blocks up to the age of 8. Shane is 5 and is at the point where he can use the Puzzle Builder Guide to build the Music Block structure; however, I don’t think he is ready to build a unique structure.

Last year he and Nicole were doing the Nursery Rhyme structures. I would print out the Puzzle Builder Guide so that they could build the structures and then color in the Guide to match their structure. My kids love doing this.

When Jared was 7 I would challenge him to build his own unique Music Block structure. By that age he understood how the blocks worked, had memorized the puzzle sequences, and was able to build his own structure by using the skills of creative thinking: flexibility, originality, elaboration, brainstorming, modification, imagery, associative thinking, attribute listing, and forced relationships. After Jared builds a structure we typically leave it together until nighttime so that we can watch the flashing lights of the blocks when it is dark.

I love these blocks because I am an engineer and my job is all about creativity and innovation and that is what the Music Blocks teach.

ABC Block

Last night I tried something new with Shane that worked really well. Our other three kids were running around and making a lot of noise; so, I gave Shane a small block structure and the ABC Block and told him to go into the study and learn a new word on his own. After a few minutes he came back and told me how to spell Goat. I wrote all the letters of the alphabet on a sheet of paper and put it up on the wall. I highlighted in yellow the letters he knows how to spell the words for and told him we will do one new word each evening.

When I woke up this morning the first thing he said to me was, “Daddy can we learn to spell after I get ready for school?” We didn’t have time and when I was leaving for work he asked if we could learn to spell when I came home. I came home around 6pm and the first thing Shane said to me was, ”Daddy, I have to tell you something … E-A-R.” After I praised him I said he needed to first spell all the other words he knows before we highlighted E on the list. He got two words wrong so I told him to go back to the blocks and find the words he got wrong. He ran off to stack the blocks and then came back and spelled all the words correctly and added a new one, Lion. He now knows 9 words and the best part is that he loves doing this.

The purpose of the ABC Charts is explained in the 3-2-11 post. You should be able to copy and paste these into a Word doc (or other program) and then insert your own pictures for Mommy and Daddy. Have Fun ...

1-26-10: Tonight I came home and the first thing Shane said to me was, "Daddy, what lives is the dark?". I said I don't know and he replied, "O-W-L." We went through all the other words he knows and then highlighted the letter O on the list.

1-29-10: Shane continues to be excited about learning a new word each day. The other morning he said, “Daddy, I am so excited that I can spell 10 words”. I figure I should not put a comment every time he learns a new word; I will just give you an update when he knows all 26 words. I can’t believe how well this is working … as a parent it really is exciting to watch your child be so excited to learn.

1-30-10: Now Shane is up to 14 words and after he learns a new one I have him write out on a piece of paper all the words he knows before highlighting the new letter on the list. Nicole is now trying to get in on the action and jumps up and down asking how to spell the differnt words and then repeating the spelling. She just came up to me, with a big smile on her face, asking me to help her spell apple.

2-5-11: Shane now knows 18 of the 26 words on the ABC Block. When I am reading to the kids at night if I come across one of the words Shane knows I ask him to read it. I have found that it is important to make sure kids can recognize the words. Aside from the stories we read, I will write the words on a piece of paper and ask him what they are.

2-8-11: Shane only has 4 words left. We started learning words that rhyme with the words he knows. For Cat, he now also knows Bat, Fat, Hat, Mat, Pat, Rat, Sat, and At. He knows 22 words from the block, 29 that rhyme with these words, for a total of 51 words. The great thing about all this is that it involves him working on his own and working with his parents; one without the other would not be anywhere near as effective.

2-10-11 Shane took on and learned the hardest word tonight: Ice Cream. Sometimes he wants me to help him find which blocks he has to stack the ABC Block on to spell specific words. I tell him he has to do this on his own because it is part of the learning process; that it is a puzzle and he has to use a process of trying all the different combinations to find the word he is looking for. Shane now has two words left. After reviewing all his words he always asks to spell and write the rhyming words and sometimes comes up with new ones on his own. I was amazed tonight when he came up with "brain" which rhymes with "train" I had not even thought of that one!

2-16-11 Shane finished with all the words on the ABC Block and I was lucky enough to capture him learning the last word on the video below. He has now moved on to learning the 7 colors the Color Blocks spell.

3-2-11 Shane finished with all the colors the Color Blocks spell a few weeks ago. We have moved on to using "sight cards" to learn more words. I have started working with Nicole on learning her ABCs. I created some Alphabet picture charts to go along with what the ABC Block spells - these are shown above. She can use these to learn her letters and then when she is ready we can start with spelling the words. I am sharing this with the idea that if you want to use these charts you can copy them. First you will want to cut and paste your own pictures for Mommy and Daddy and then print on standard 8.5" x 11" photo paper.

3-5-11 Nicole has finished learning her ABCs and wants to start learning how to spell the words. We put up the charts ... check out this pick to see the basic idea ... when she can spell the word we highlight the letter in yellow. Today she learned CAT and then she wrote all the words she knows on a piece of paper (Lion, Rose, and Cat) ... she wanted to learn another word but I said we would just do one a day. Actually, I am not really expecting her to learn one a day which is the pace at which Shane learned them ... Nicole is a year younger. We will just take it slow and make sure we keep it fun ... there really isn't any rush considering she does not start kindergarten for a year and a half.

Nursery Rhyme Blocks

These blocks really span a wide age range. Kids 1-3 years old will enjoy listening and learning the nursery rhymes; I was playing these blocks for Jenna when she was 9 months old.

When Shane and Nicole were 3 and 4 I started introducing them to the Puzzle Builder Guide. The Nursery Rhyme Blocks have the easiest puzzles and each block gets progressively harder. I would print the Guide out and have them build one structure at a time. Once they were finished they would get out their coloring pencils and color in all the steps of the Guide to match the structure they built. They were too young back then to actually build a unique puzzle solving structure; however, Shane did memorize the puzzle sequence and could play the nursery rhymes one line at a time without any instructions.

Jared was old enough back then to be innovative and build unique structures for all the puzzle blocks. Shane is now probably getting to the age when he can start doing this with the Nursery Rhyme Blocks. We will have to try this once he finishes with the ABC Block.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Color Blocks

The Color Blocks were the big hit for Shane and Nicole when they first started using the Smarcks … especially since they were 2 and 3 at the time. They even each had their favorite block they would carry with them in the car. They would sit there pressing the buttons and laughing about all the fun things the blocks say and all the cool sound effects they make.

Probably the most common thing I did with my kids regarding learning with the Color Blocks is to remind them of what the blocks say regarding good manners. If they were not sharing I would say, ”What does the Purple Block say?” …”When you play and you want to be fair, be like Smarcks and always share”. There were also numerous times that they would say these statements to each other.

I think once Shane finishes with all the words on the ABC Block I will challenge him to start learning to spell all the colors that the Color Blocks teach.

Storage Container

Storage is always an important concern for children's toys. Shown here is the storage container for the Smarcks. This is the 70 Piece Building Set. It is a plastic container that is 15” x 7” x 13”. It comes with the 70 standard blocks and a talking blue Smart Block.

The container is big enough to hold all these blocks plus all the other 18 Smart Blocks
if you end up buying all the sets. The other great thing is that it is easy for toddlers to open. We have 4 children and lots of Tupperware containers filled with toys; unfortunately, these are designed for adults and difficult to open by young children. The Smarcks container is really cute, very rugged, and easy to use.

The Smarcks container is designed to look like a block and has a high resolution image of a face that is the same face that is on the Smart Blocks. This way kids can relate this larger clear picture of the face to the smaller face on the actual talking blocks. Having this nice image on the container meant not having to add paint to the face on the actual blocks; consequently, the blocks are free on any type of coatings.

Products Made in China

New regulations have been put in place to improve toy safety. The first is from the American Society for Testing and Materials. The test is ASTM F963-07 and relates primarily to the physical and mechanical safety of toys as described on this link:

American Society of Testing and Materials, F963-07

The next is from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and relates more towards testing for lead and phthalates:

CPSIA Test Parameters

U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission

Products must be tested by an independent third party laboratory. I can’t guarantee that all toy companies abide by these rules but we do. The Smarcks were tested by Intertek which is the largest testing lab in the world:


I went one step further with these blocks. I decided not to use any surface coatings such as paint; I did not want to take any chances. Lead paint is one of the biggest issues with children's toys - this was the problem with Thomas the Tank Engine. Smarcks do not use any type of paint or any other surface coating. The picture on the Website Launch article is my 9 month old baby girl. She plays with the blocks every day. She can't stack them yet but loves to pull them out of the container, wave them around, and try and chew on them. I think the ultimate testimonial is that my own four children play with these.