Thursday, August 30th, 2007
Review: Kid K’nex Building Toy for Preschoolers
What you see is not what your child sees. That’s especially true for Kid K’nex.
I saw awkward Tinker Toy-like building pieces for making abstract creatures. My daughter saw anything in her imagination. Consider her 3-year-old creations below.
Kid K’Next are colorful, ultra bright bendable plastic sticks that connect to joints for creating statue-style objects, accented by one or two realistic body parts.
A company rep offered to send over a review sample, so we gave the toy a spin. My daughter has been playing with them for more than a month.
Compare the creatures my daughter made to how a toddler paints pictures. At a young age, kids think in abstract terms. Ask your child about the blobs of paint she slapped on a sheet of paper and you may receive a
detailed account of a scene she painted in her mind.
A 4- or 5-year-old would, of course, create vastly different play structures.
The same principle held true for my
daughter building with K’Nex.
Her face turns serious as she attaches the many sticks and joint pieces. Unassisted, her creations are bizarre and minimalist, but always have meaning to her.
I asked her:
- “Do you like this toy?”
- “I can make so much stuff with them.”
You’ve probably seen K’nex toys in various stores, but Kid K’nex is a special, simplified version for ages 3 to 5. They sell in themed kits where the contents in the box let you build the creature featured on the product packaging.
The two kits I’m reviewing are Country Friends and Undersea Pals. These sets let you build, one-at-a-time, a lobster, octopus, whale, penguin, mouse, pig, snail or duck. Sometimes the animal is fairly abstract, such as the mouse featured with a lobster in the marketing graphic above.
We quickly lost the printed diagrams that came with our kits that depicted the animals we could build. No worries though because I had no intention of building them with my daughter. The point of an open-ended toy is to build anything you want. So we mixed the K’nex pieces between the two carrying cases and didn’t look back.
What I Liked:
- Open-ended creativity. Eyeballs included in both kits go with any type of creature. Fins included in one kit were intended as fins or penguin feet, but my daughter saw them as bat wings.
- Scaled pricing. You can buy big expensive K’nex kits, or smaller ones like those in this review. The basic kits are ideally priced at $10 for birthday gifts, an easy way to build up your K’nex collection.
- Although the pieces are plastic, they don’t feel cheap.
- One $10 kit is enough to occupy a 3-year-old, making multiple creations before taking them apart to build new ones.
What I Disliked:
- Not enough specialty body parts. One kit has two eyeballs and two fins. The other had only two eyeballs. When buying a kit, look carefully at how many body parts are shown in the product photo. This would be my primary influence in selecting a K’nex kit â€” am I getting one set or two sets of specialty parts?
- If your child is still mouthing toys at age 3, don’t use this toy. Some parts are small.
- If you amass a large K’nex collection, the plastic storage bins will become a hassle to keep. In real world situations, I expect all of your K’nex kits will get thrown into one box.
The next step up in the K’nex age group is to 5- to 7-year-olds. We sampled K’nex’s Wheel Action 10 Model Building Set. This one $10 kit lets you build 11 vehicles.
I was blown away by the complexity — 150 pieces (reminiscent of Lego and Kid K’nex pieces) and a step-by-step pictorial manual. You get a walkthrough for building 6 vehicles (quick car, speedster, flatbed truck, dragster, tow truck and plow) and single finished diagrams for 5 vehicles (mini car, airplane, 2 “funny cars,” and a forklift).
The preschool kits are not compatible with the kits for older kids, nor could they be because the objects older kids build are more compact and based around blocks that snap together.