TDmonthly Magazine!
June 2006 | Vol. V - No. 6


Homeschooling Roundtable: Tween Girls Build Bridges

K’Nex, Uberstix and Anachronisms Undergo Scrutiny

“I'm building the Dames Point, Mom!”Victoria Ledford, age 11
This month, the home-schooled tween girls got what they like best: plenty of building materials. The Costines already have an entire LEGO village in their home. But the K’NEX Real Bridge Building set got all hands replicating the world’s most famous bridges. It was a huge hit with parents and kids both for fun and learning. The new Uberstix Uberdragon construction toy was also appreciated and TriKing Games’ Anachronisms scored with the younger brothers.

Participating were former art teacher Lynn Costine with Sarah (12 years), Anna (11), Emily (9) and Will (7); former business owner Julie Petoia with Cabot Lee (11), Talia (10) and Malynne (8); Susan Ledford, editor of the Homeschoolers Resources Directory, with Victoria (11) and Joe (6); former corporate workshop manager Shawna Hughes with Alexa (10); and former fashion consultant, current radiology student Allison Seagle with Sara (11). (Click here to view the full results of the survey: Homeschool Families Rate Toys.

Uberdragon by UBERSTIX (ToyDirectory)

This brand new building kit made partly of recycled materials caught the girls’ fancies. The kit allowed them to build a catapult, a dragon and a number of other items.

“We first built a catapult because my kids are really interested in catapults,” said Costine.

“I liked that you could make a lot of things,” enthused Cabot Lee.

“Toys that expand upon spatial skills are very hot at our house right now,” noted Ledford.

“So that’s how cross beams work!” said Victoria.

“They should include some examples of how crossbeams are utilized in real life,” noted her Mom.

“Here’s my dragon’s head!” pointed out Joe.

Drawbacks included directions that weren’t 100 percent clear and the lack of a container in which to keep the pieces. Uberstix, however, prides itself on using compact packaging to minimize its impact on the environment.

“My kids built a couple of structures using the Uberstix with the K’NEX kits,” added Costine, whose kids are mad for building.

“We didn’t know you could do that!” lamented Cabot Lee.
Costine is also interested in the Uberbot RC Robot kits.

“Uberstix has a lot of potential for imaginative use outside of what the directions show you to do with them. They can be used with other items to make projects,” noted Hughes.

Examples of objects that work with Uberstix include K’NEX, McDonald’s straws, recycled bottles and Popsicle sticks.

Real Bridge Building and Building Bridges Set by K’NEX

“The educational value of these kits is tremendous; the children are learning about physics while developing spatial skills, and they had a ton of fun!” raved Ledford. “The Teacher's Guide was very comprehensive, including everything from background information on bridges to Internet research and resources.”

Petoia’s girls were just as enthusiastic: “We had a large play date over here about a week ago. In the middle of it, Talia convinced a friend to play the bridge building set. While 12 other children ran through the house and yard, Talia and her friend sat at the table and built for an hour,” said Mom.

“Alexa particularly seemed to like the fact that this set directly related to something she had seen in the real world,” noted Hughes. “Within the hour the set was delivered, it was open and Alexa had started building on her own. She said it is the best K’NEX set she ever had and it has also taught her some things she hadn’t realized about bridges.”

What didn't the kids like about K'NEX?

“Nothing!” said Malynne. “It was fun!”

“I'm building the Dames Point, Mom!” said Victoria.

“Mom, I can do it by myself!" cried an elated Joe, 6.

In addition to the instructional booklet, the mothers loved the containers that could keep track of the kit once it was disassembled.

“We were recently in Charleston and New York and all of the kids could identify the different kinds of bridges,” said Costine.

K'NEX was a huge hit with the entire family at our house. The hard part was waiting ‘til the children had finished their play so Dad could jump in,” summed up Ledford.

“We haven’t had time to do all the projects in the book, due to time constraints, but I know we will do them all because it is such a wonderful learning tool,” affirmed Hughes. “Alexa would be very likely to request more K’NEX sets like this.”

Anachronisms by TriKing Games (ToyDirectory)

The girls and their moms loved the look of these detailed historical cards. But it was the little brothers — Will and Joe — who were most enthusiastic about the game.

“The quality cards in this game had interesting information that drew in the children's interest,” noted Ledford. “I also liked the fact that it covered several different cultures.”

“The pictures on the cards were cool!” agreed Malynne.

“My son liked these 100 times better than my daughters did,” Costine told TDmonthly . “It's kind of like the whole Pokémon and Magic thing, except from a historical slant. I don't know why they appeal more to boys. This company’s made an excellent attempt to put girl characters in the set, but most are still male and most focus on swords and fighting.”

“My favorite character was Sainte Jeanne D’Arc,” said big sis Cabot Lee.

“My favorite character is Miyamoto Musashi,” added Victoria.

“I want to be Achilles!” cried her brother Joe.

The big drawback to the game was that “there was so much to remember!” sighed Cabot Lee.

“Even my 11-year-old had a difficult time understanding the instructions and needed help from Dad,” commented Ledford. “Putting the instructions on the playing mat doesn't work well when learning the game.”

Hughes noted that the paper playing board wouldn’t stand up to repeated play.

“The cards are very sturdy and well made. The dice are large. The cards are very nice looking, but it took too long to figure out how to play,” concluded Hughes. “If you didn’t have to keep referring to the directions to figure out what to do it might be more fun.”

“If you have a child like Will who really likes the card things, I'd be much more likely to buy this than Magic or Pokémon,” concluded Costine. “But if I bought it for him, it would be as a toy, not as something educational.”

Here are the toys that taught the homeschoolers this month, plus a few extra toys by the same companies:

MSRP: $165.00
Age Range: 10 and up
Category: Construction

The Real Bridge Building Set builds seven 5’ long replicas of real world bridges, one per bridge type, two at a time. Models include replicas of the Firth of Forth Cantilever Bridge (Scotland), Tower Bascale Bridge (London), Golden Gate Suspension Bridge (San Francisco), Chesapeake Bay Beam Bridge (Virginia Beach), Columbia River - Astoria Truss Bridge (Oregon), Sydney Harbor Arch Bridge (Australia) and the Dames Point Cable-Stayed Bridge (Jacksonville, Fla.). Curriculum offers key features of each bridge type, statistics on each, and building challenges for each bridge type, written to middle school National Standards in Science and Technology. It supports six to eight students.
— K’NEX is the best-selling transformable toy line at Learning Express in North Hampton, N.H., reported manager Linda Doucette.
— “K'NEX is one of our first toys we started out with, and they've done very well for us,” said Kim Drilling, a three-year employee of the 4-year-old Fat Brain Toys in Elkhorn, Neb.
— Real Bridge Building was the hands-down favorite of both the Moms and kids in TDmonthly's Homeschooling Roundtable for being educational and fun. “They’ve played and played and played with it,”  between May and July 2006 , said mom Susan Ledford.  “I’ve built about four of the bridges and I’ve built different things, too,” 11-year-old Sara Seagle told TDmonthly
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 7748      (added 4/28/2006)

MSRP: $29.99
Age Range: 10 and up
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Construction

Now kids can build thirteen different bridges that connect our world! Models include replicas of the Firth of Forth Cantilever Bridge (Scotland), Tower Bascale Bridge (London), Golden Gate Suspension Bridge (San Francisco), Chesapeake Bay Beam Bridge (Virginia Beach), Columbia River - Astoria Truss Bridge (Oregon), Sydney Harbor Arch Bridge (Australia) and the Dames Point Cable-Stayed Bridge (Jacksonville). This set was first introduced in 2004.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 7749      (added 4/28/2006)

MSRP: $149.95
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Construction

With the Überbots construction and RC kits, kids spend most of their time designing and building offenses and defenses and then testing their assumptions on the field of battle. If they are knocked down three times, they return to their lab and redesign to come back stronger. The more kids play, the more sophisticated their designs become. Dane Scarborough, inventor of Überbots and Überstix, told TDmonthly, “Build a boat and it floats or sails; build a UFO and it really flies; build a skyscraper and your ceiling may get in the way. More than one retailer told me that placing the order felt good because Überstix are designed to work with recycled items, including water bottles, Popsicle sticks, McDonald's straws, paperclips, etc. … This feature allows kids of all economic backgrounds to build big.” The kit builds two Überbots with 250 Überstix, two controllers and two flags. Each Überbot will operate on a different RC frequency, with up to six Überbots capable of battling simultaneously. The kit can also be purchased with rechargeable batteries.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 7264      (added 3/20/2006)

Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Card Games

The first Anachronism set introduces some of the greatest Japanese, Norse, Greek and Roman warriors, and the weapons, armor and other cards to support them. With every pack historically accurate and ready to play right out of the pack, you can clash steel with your friends right away. You can also mix and match cultures. Find the right match to slay your foes and emerge victorious. Anachronism takes learning to new heights. Students develop skills as they interact in this lightning-fast card game using historical figures from the great cultures of the world.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 7619      (added 4/20/2006)

Alison MarekWriter's Bio: ALISON MAREK is an award-winning writer, director and cartoonist whose work has been published by Fairchild Publications and DC Comics (Piranha Press), broadcast on Showtime and other cable networks, and viewed worldwide in film festivals. See her short films and print work on Watch her nefarious villains in the web series Get inspired by her cartoons "Daily ARFFirmations to Unleash Your Inner Fido" at Phew! And then ...  Read more articles by this author


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