Morphun – Total Stem – review

I feel as though I am obsessed with construction, I always have been and so it’s little surprise that this is rubbing off on Arlo. We have all sorts of sets, from the ever popular childrens classics such as Lego, to some newer toy kits featuring magnets and we love sitting down and playing with them – from following instructions to build something “properly” to just coming up with something completely new. It was such a great day for me to bring out some of my childhood Lego bricks to play with Arlo.

I’m currently in the midst of my teacher training and constantly looking at ways to encourage children to engage with Design and Technology as a subject and I’m absolutely fascinated with problem solving and “design through making.” It seems obvious when playing to take some building blocks and try to figure out how to make something – if it doesn’t work then you fiddle around until it does. That’s the fun part.

This trial and error process is essential to design and something which designers in industry participate in regularly but already I have seen children in schools take designs and sketches which they don’t think are good enough and try to scrunch them up to put them in the bin. It’s my mission to encourage children to realise that making mistakes is part of the design process and whatever the project is, you can take an initial sketch or model and annotate it – talk about the bits which don’t work and then figure out how to improve it – it’s very rare to get something right the first time and it’s why we produce models. Some of the worlds most inventive designs have been modelled during the preliminary stages using children’s toys.

This brings me on to the Morphun Total Stem kit I was kindly given to share with you. After spotting a brand new kit on display at the Blog on conference I went to last month I was super excited to see a huge box which includes pulleys and gears and all sorts of other bits and bobs to build with. This is a completely new style of construction kit and the huge box I came home with has been so much fun to explore. Inside are numerous different pieces and a full set of instructions including teaching resources and worksheets for building projects for kids aged 5-10.

I of course started to play with Arlo at home. I pulled out some of the simplest worksheets and we began to make a simple vehicle by slotting pieces together. It’s quite tricky to get the hang of at first because the way these pieces fit together is truly unique – but once you figure it out then it’s intuitive and you can build really solid projects. I was really excited to put together a pulley system to help him rotate the pieces of a “digger” to raise the arm. He was engaged with this throughout the build and then played with the toy we made for quite a while. Often when we use build kits the final piece isn’t robust enough for play and so this was a very pleasant surprise. In fact it took us quite a while to deconstruct it when wanted to make something new.

With quite complex parts involved Arlo isn’t quite there when it comes to building his own mechanical designs independently. He’s happy to slide random pieces together and also work with me on projects and ask for advice on which moving parts will work best but I’m hoping that using these from such a young age will give him insight in to the types of systems required for developing skills in robotics and engineering – it sounds almost far fetched but finding fun in problem solving through play with STEM toys at this age really is useful.

To get a different perspective I invited my nephew Logan to play with this set a she’s at the top end of the age range. He pulled out one of the most challenging projects – a helicopter build with pulleys and gears. We sat together initially and I demonstrated how the pieces work before he was able to independently follow the instructions on the worksheet. Being new to the process he made some mistakes with the orientation of pieces and figured out through the build that he had to go back and make adjustments. Instead of getting frustrated with this he was excited when he figured out these issues and I got a sense of achievement through him explaining exactly why something wouldn’t work and how he was correcting himself.

We spent two hours playing – when he finished the project and he finished with a huge helicopter – this used quite a lot of different pieces and we talked about what would happen if we changed gear sizes or if we began rotating the pulley systems a different way. Instead of just explaining the theory behind the process we were able to build and experiment further and I feel that he got a really good understanding of how systems work. The box also had a healthy supply of pieces left for us to continue to build and play.

Seeing how this new resource engages both a four year old and a ten year old (and myself as an adult) for so much time is really refreshing. I see these as a great investment for a home or indeed in a classroom setting. I’ve spotted Morphun kits available to order in the U.K. on Amazon and I feel that the price ranges for the starter kits are comparable with other brands of construction toys and offer great play value considering the longevity potential for use and the educational play value. There are add on kits and I’m also intrigued by the math and literary sets too.

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