It is, of course, impossible to review all of the amazing educational toys out there. My Gifts for the Gifted series is not nearly as expansive as some of the other lists that you can find this time of year. Just in case you don’t find something that you think your child/student/niece/nephew/ would like on my list, here are some others that I plan to use for my own shopping ideas:
For the past couple of weeks, I have been talking about mindsets with my third grade class. I plan to do a post about that topic next week, but today is Friday, and we’re in the midst of the holiday season – which means that it’s time for another gift suggestion in my “Gifts for the Gifted” series.
My recommendations for today are two maze games: Perplexus and Groove Tube. Our recent discussions about Fixed and Growth mindsets made me look at these two toys in my classroom a bit differently. Perplexus is one of the go-to toys during indoor recess. Some students view this ball maze within a sphere as an intriguing challenge, and will spend a good twenty minutes fixated on guiding the ball carefully around (reflecting a Growth Mindset) while others will grab the sphere gleefully and jerkily dump the ball all over the place, completely ignoring the point of the game, and declaring victory in about 5 minutes (that would be the Fixed Mindset, if you haven’t guessed). The latter group reminds me of the kids who solved Rubik’s cubes by moving the colored stickers around when I was a kid.
Similarly, one of my students brought in a Groove Tube a few weeks ago, which I had never seen. It consists of a one tube overlapping another. Inside, where you can’t see it, is a maze of grooves. If you can manipulate the outer tube through this unseen maze correctly, it will slide completely off.
These are both toys that will be quickly abandoned by kids who sport the Fixed Mindset. However, I have found that modeling, particularly with younger kids, can completely change their approach. When they see me persisting through the challenge, refusing to give up, and showing pleasure as I try to think it through, they show renewed interest.
Both of these toys can be great entertainers in “waiting” situations – the doctor’s office, long car rides (not the Perplexus, though, if it’s a bumpy one!), visiting family, etc… Groove Tube, which comes in different colors to represent different difficulty levels, is relatively inexpensive (making it a good stocking stuffer). Perplexus is a bit more of an investment, but still reasonably priced. However, you might be wasting your money if you don’t invest some time in showing the recipients the value of working your way doggedly toward a solution.
One of the best gifts that you can give, which costs nothing but time, is to show a child how to embrace a challenge.
As I was cyber searching for holiday gifts this weekend, I began to arrive at an unattractive conclusion. Despite all of our efforts to combat sexism, it is alive and well in our toy industry. My daughter had asked for some Nerf products for Christmas, and I was dismayed to see that, on many of the websites, these were labelled as “Gender: Boy”. Delving into the matter further, I noticed that many of the building or engineering toys I found were also given this label. In addition, even if the items were not categorized for a specific gender, the product descriptions often referred to “he” or “him” as the toy recipients, and usually had photos of boys playing with them.
According to this article in Atlantic, 90% of America’s engineers are male. This is no surprise to me, considering the enormous gender bias that we greet our children with from Day 1 of their infancy. In order to even the playing field, we need to seriously reconsider the preconceived notion that we, Americans, have about how boys and girls should play. As teachers and parents, we should offer our children all kinds of toys, despite gender bias, and without prejudicial language. And toy manufacturers and reviewers need to move on to the 21st century, where girls and boys should not be forced into traditional gender roles.
Debbie Sterling, creator of Goldie Blox, is trying to raise the number of female engineers by offering a new toy which combines a story with a set of pieces for construction. This unique approach to introducing girls to the joy of building things for a purpose is absolutely ingenious. According to Sterling, a Stanford graduate, she spent a year researching what features in this toy would appeal to girls. Then, through Kickstarter, Sterling raised the funding to produce her toy, and her website states that they are estimated to begin delivery in April of 2013.
Although I lament the fact that this toy will be gender-biased, albeit toward the female gender this time, I think that Goldie Blox is definitely taking a step in the right direction. Before we can completely stop color-coding our playthings for boys and girls, we will need to convince the majority of Americans to rectify our language and our subconscious decisions that lead our children to believe that only certain types of toys are appropriate for each gender. I hope that the press that Goldie Blox is receiving will begin a conversation in our country that might eventually lead to this toy revolution.
You Can Do the Rubik’s Cube has a surprising number of resources for using this “toy” for learning. Frustrated by this endless cube of fun? There are downloadable teacher resources that integrate math, as well as solution manuals. There are activities for all ages, including The Candy Game for ages 7-17. In addition to the free materials, there is an education kit available, a t-shirt, and links to competitions for schools and youth groups.