I’ve been very happy using LEGO bricks for the Jr. Structural Engineering class, but I’m not wedded to LEGO. I just want to the kids to get good at engineering, so I’m more than happy to use whatever they think is awesome, and then adopting the curriculum to make the most of the materials at hand. So I’ve had my eyes open for the next building block.
A few years, friends of the family introduced us to Kapla planks and I also happened to see their US store in Charleston, SC. They are pretty amazing and a fun alternative to LEGO. They are wooden planks that have 1x3x5 dimensions. There are a couple of clever aspects to them. Firstly, the dimensions are such that you can stack three planks together to match the width of one on-edge plank, and five plank widths equal three lengths, both of which help your stacks to eventually converge. Also, some gravity, friction, leverage, and precision manufacturing, make them stackable without using any type of fastening mechanism. All in all, they make great open-ended building toys.
I’ve since learned that, not surprisingly, there are a few competitors in the field. Keva makes blocks that are distributed exclusively through Mindware. Like Kapla, they also offer some complimentary toys for building more complicated contraptions and they are headquartered in Virginia, not so far from me. I also stumbled upon Citiblocs, which offers the same basic block with city-themed marketing pitch. They are, I think, down in Tampa, FL, where I spent Christmas this last year, but I didn’t realize the overlap in time to manage a face-to-face meeting.
We’ll see how things come together for the next class. I haven’t had good hands-on time, yet, with each of the blocks, so I speak to their differences. I’m looking forward, though, towards some awesome building time around the house as I work up to the first class.