Whether you’re putting together a puzzle, building a tower, looking for a new job, or just hanging out with your kids, life is all about connections. This week, we reviewed four unique ways you and your family can use physical connections to build stronger emotional ones.
Brackitz Driver Set (Brackitz)
As much as we love traditional block-based building systems, we’re delighted at the ongoing trend toward more open-ended systems with unique pieces and ways of connecting them. Brackitz is one of the best, and they keep getting better. The new Driver Set comes with 43 pieces and directions for building 10 driving machines, including a teeter-totter, a gyro copter, a windmill, and a dragster. But who says you have to follow directions, when you can follow your imagination instead? Brackitz kits are great for individual or collaborative play and for building spatial- and engineering skills. They combine with other Brackitz kits as well as with other systems, such as Keva planks and CitiBlocs. For ages 3+. Under $25 at amazon.com, other retailers, and https://brackitz.com
A new—and completely unique—system from the makers of MiP, ChiP, Coji, and other amazing robotic toys. The majority of Magnaflex pieces are shaped like bay leaves, but don’t be fooled: They snap, bend, zip, stack, and stick together (thanks to the encapsulated kid-safe magnets) to create animals, bugs, vehicles, wearable jewelry, and just about anything else your imagination can come up with. Magnaflex kits come in a variety of themes and sizes, but the pieces (there are also circular connectors) are so colorful and engaging that we’re betting that you and the kids will skip the instructions and start building whatever pops into your head as soon as you open the box. And when you’re done—which will be a while—the magnets make après-play clean up a breeze. For ages 3+. Prices depend on the size of the kit. Available at toysrus.com and http://wowwee.com
Twangled is a little reminiscent of Twister. Players stand in a circle, but instead of holding hands, they’re connected to their neighbor by holding onto colorful, very stretchy elastic bands. Now the fun begins. Players take turns kicking (because their hands are already occupied) a spinner that instructs them to step over or under a band of a particular color. As you can imagine, the giggling starts within seconds and continues until you’ve gotten yourselves hopelessly tangled up. At this point, the object of the game shifts, and players have to talk each other through how to get themselves back to their untangled starting positions—without letting go of the bands, of course. It’s great for building visualization and problem-solving skills and is a wonderful team-building exercise, since everyone has to work together to get unstuck. It’s for 4-8 players ages 6+. Under $25 at http://www.mindware.orientaltrading.com
Geek & Co. Chewing Gum Lab (Thames & Kosmos)
Chewing gum is one of the best ways to connect two objects (after duct tape and super glue). And this chemistry-based kit gives you and your kids a great opportunity to connect with each other (literally and/or figuratively) while making your own tasty gum and learning about the science of polymers. The kit comes with a 16-page manual containing five experiments, along with all the necessary gum-related ingredients as well as wrappers so you can give unused homemade treats to your friends and family. For ages 8+. Under $20 at your favorite retailer. http://www.thamesandkosmos.com