What could be better fun than a box full of parts and gadgets with an instructive guide encouraging boys and girls to create their own toys, but do so using elementary science and engineering concepts that will make their play pop? Thinkfun’s “Maker Studio Construction Set” is just that with 3 sets available for smart play: Winches, Gears and Propellers. The only thing you have to provide is the “body” of your kinetic machine which requires a hunt through the re-cycle bin or gift wrapping closet. My friends and I used an oatmeal cylinder and started to work making a well with our Winches set. Thinkfun is well-known for expanding the learning with their games and products and once again they provide a nice booklet introducing and explaining the engineering vocabulary of spool, connector, gear, rod and hub cap and their purpose. My 7 year-old friend learned that “a spool + rubber band creates tension which can be released to power a wheel or gear.” I love that language of science which is so important for kids to learn through hands on discovery and experience like this, as kids are increasingly asked to give the why and how of what they do in science class. Each of the 4 projects  in the Winches collection, tow truck, jeep, well and crane have two additional “Engineering Challenges and Tips” to answer after you complete your build. We chose “Rescue a toy or game piece that has fallen into the well!” How fascinating to watch my friend experiment, invent and try different ways to pick up his Hulk and Iron Man lego figures. “Oh I’ve got an idea,” he said, “we’re gonna have to do it without his arm. It’s a possibility.”  The Hulk was too heavy and his arms were too big for the hook (duh!) so my friend figured out he could loosen the arm, wrap the string in the space, tighten it and bring him on up the well. It was fun to watch a little pretend play continue to be interjected during the construction process, “The Hulk is not too strong after all!” and finally, “Hey Hulk, we did it!” These sets entertain, teach, stimulate creativity, promote pretend play, build language skills AND are an incredible value for the price.

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