Monday, June 23rd, 2008
Review: Connectables Fort Building Toy
This is an awesome toy.
Last year I fell in love with the Fortamajig fort builder made by The Happy Kid Company. Its goal was to replace household blankets. No, really, I’m serious. It has achieved victory in our home as a plaything. Blankets are still good for cold nights.
So I was drooling earlier this year when I heard a hint of a whiff of a whisper about something called Connectables, a new toy from the mom-inventors of the Fortamajig.
For the past three months my family has been playing with this successor, or perhaps this versatile supplement to the original Fortamajig.
What It Is
Connectables are a light flexible barrier for creating a fort or cave or other fun hiding or play space. They attach to each other and to objects in your home or backyard.
The set consists of six colorful 33" squares and two 58" rectangles made of ripstop nylon fabric. It’s material similar to that used in camping tents. Each square is bordered by 12 Velcro loops while the rectangles have 16 loops. The corner loops are extra stretchy with elastic.
When you wrap the Velcro around an object, it becomes an anchor point. Bed rails. Chairs. Couch arms. Door knobs. Shoe trees. An electronic rocking baby swing. *cough* Not while the baby is in it. Hey, even a curtain rod or closet rod.
Any of the Velcro loops can be lengthened using one of the ten extra loop extenders (5 short, 5 long) included with the toy.
By far, my 4-year-old daughter’s favorite use is to shroud the lower half of her bunk bed to make a room within her room. And when a friend sleeps over, we make an improvised tent spanning the length of her room.
Connectables vs. Blankets
Hey, I’m not knocking blankets. They’re great and you already have some. Just the same, Connectables have something to offer.
1. Greater creativity. Connectables expand what’s possible. You can configure forts in ways that would be difficult to impossible with blankets. You can suspend the fabric at any odd angle, limited only by the height
of your anchor point and the depth of your imagination. That becomes
part of the fun, finding and moving furniture and manipulating the
fabric to make it all work. For example, a lean-to is easy with Connectables, running the panels from a curtain or closet rod or top bed bunk rail down at 45 degrees to the ground.
2. Lightweight and secure. Velcro is more resistant to the constant movements of kids rubbing against the fabric when you hook onto a solid immobile anchor. Blankets suffer constant droop and the inevitable cave-in. To hold a blanket
in place, you often need to wedge it between something or pile books on
top to hold it down (a bit dangerous with toddlers involved).
3. Easy maintenance. The day after a blanket fort, I’m washing all the blankets. I don’t have that compunction with Connectables because they have no fibers to trap dirt. Whatever grime they might pick up during normal play isn’t getting on me in my sleep like with blankets. If needed, they are machine washable. The only real maintenance is to restick the Velcro loops back onto themselves when you’re done so the panels don’t get stuck together when you stuff them back into the storage backpack.
4. Portable. Take the fort to a friend’s house or Grandma’s house. Blankets are portable too, but it would be weird to bring blankets with you, or to impose by asking the other person to dirty their blankets.
Connectables vs. the Original Fortamajig
1. They are expandable. Use Connectables and a Fortamajig together for bigger forts, or combine forces with whichever one a friend owns.
2. Connectables are easier to handle than the Fortamajig (which is a single 8-foot square panel). My daughter can pick up a 33" Connectables panel and work with it while the Fortamajig is so large she concerns herself with one Velcro loop at a time. She likes being able to pick up a Connectables panel and see "the big picture" of how it will integrate into the fort.
3. Our Connectables forts tend to be small and tightly contoured around objects. The Fortamajig lends itself to sprawling roof-like applications or being draped over a table. One type of fort isn’t necessarily better than the other.
4. Connectables require more work to assemble than a Fortamajig because you’re connecting eight fabric panels to each other as well as to anchor points. That’s not a criticism, just an observation.
5. Connectables are more colorful. My 8 Connectables panels came in 7 varying solid colors (two panels are blue). The Fortamajig being a single large square comes in one color or two colors double-sided.
The toy is rated for 3 to 12-year-olds, and my daughter hasn’t encountered problems, but I recommend direct adult supervision for kids in the lower half of that range. Pay special attention that untippable anchor points are used and double-check their Velcro latching.
A Connectables set is $90 and Fortamajig is $70. If you price out the
fabric, Velcro and sewing time, it’s seems quite reasonable. Still, I
accept they’re not for everyone, namely people who will stick with
I view Connectables as a toy with great growth potential. Unlike
virtually all other toys that parents of toddlers buy, this one will
far outlast toddlerhood. When do kids stop liking forts? Age 8? 10? 12?
36? *cough* And consider that the versatility of the toy increases as your
child grows and becomes more inventive.
At 1-year-old, my daughter’s first fort was a blanket I draped over her toddler table. What has escaped me about blanket forts until now is the degree to which I must handle almost all aspects of their creation because they simply are not easy for a toddler to manage. Even around her third birthday, she couldn’t handle a large blanket by herself, nor keep couch cushions upright while a blanket was thrown over. I doubt she can do that at 4-years-old. She’s just not big enough.
Fortamajig and Connectables allow a degree of immediate involvement because a kid just has to understand how to manipulate Velcro. Sure, my daughter is sloppy and her anchor points are limited to heights not much beyond the top of her head, but does she need higher? She has fun helping build forts or doing it herself when Dad steps out of the way.
It has been a lesson for me in letting go, not correcting everything my daughter does… because let’s face it, a toddler makes a lousy, sloppy fort. But to her it’s ultra cool.
Connectables are empowering kid-size fort building tools. They are a perfect standalone toy, and are great for adding extra excitement to pretend play.
[The Connectables were provided to Thingamababy for review, but if they hadn't been, I'd likely have opted for the Connectables today and the Fortamajig in a few years when my kids have cut loose and are building big forts without Dad.]
What Can a 4-Year-Old Do?