If you are a regular reader of Twodaloo, you are probably aware of my passion for open-ended, low-tech toys. Today I’m thrilled to be reviewing quite possibly the most awesome battery-free learning tool ever invented…a complete set of Spielgaben educational toys. Although I was provided with a complementary set of materials in exchange for this review, all opinions are 100% my own, and I am absolutely enthralled with this amazing product!
Stimulate Development With Low-Tech Toys
If you are looking for toys that stimulate development- and, let’s face it, who isn’t- you will most likely be bombarded by folks selling toys that claim to teach all sorts of concepts and vocabulary and social skills by enticing your child with buttons and lights and beeps and shiny plastic. Here’s my advice as a developmental professional with eight years of specialized education and many more years of therapeutic practice- if you want to stimulate development and encourage meaningful learning, toss out those batteries. Open-ended, low-tech toys are the way to go. It’s just that simple. Contrary to popular belief, there’s no app for that!
Luckily, the folks at Spielgaben understand this, and have gone so far as to recreate the original educational toy engineered by Frederick Froebel, a German innovator who is known as the founder of Kindergarden. The modern Spielgaben set is based on Froebel’s “gifts,” which are sets of simple, open-ended materials painstakingly developed in the early 1800′s specifically for use in Froebel’s Kindergarten classrooms. Working under the guiding principles that children learn best through playful discovery and that humans are creative beings, Froebel created the Speilgabe (“play gifts”) to facilitate learning and development in a way that is most natural and meaningful for the child. Considering intellectual giants Albert Einstein and Frank Lloyd Wright played with toys like these as children, I’d say these materials are worth a second look!
Our Experience with Spielgaben
When I was contacted by Spielgaben company to do a review, I literally did a happy dance in my living room. No joke. I had coveted this amazing product for some time after seeing it featured on many of my favorite play and learning websites and could not believe my good fortune. Once the set arrived at my door, it did not disappoint!
Upon opening and examining our set, I was immediately impressed with the sheer amount and wonderful quality of the materials. The vibrant colors and myriad of shapes and textures are an absolute delight to the senses and immediately invite further investigation for both adults and children. There are lots and lots of small pieces, and these are kept nicely contained and organized in a set of three segmented stacking trays that store the materials beautifully and compactly when not in use. Every time I look at these materials, my mind begins racing with new ideas on how to combine them for new play and learning experiences for the twins. I can see so many possibilities for using these in a classroom or therapy setting!
In addition to the beautifully crafted manipulatives, the Spielgaben set comes with an extremely comprehensive set of learning resources that you can download and print at your leisure. If you need ideas on how to use these materials to facilitate learning, the Play Guides take you step-by-step with detailed photo illustrations on how to use Spielgaben to explore a huge array of developmental and academic skills such as sensory, fine motor, language, basic math and problem-solving. For older children who are ready for more advanced math instruction, these guides also take you through elementary geometry and physics concepts (recommended for ages 7-12). Thanks to these well-prepared guides, you don’t need a specialized degree or classroom/therapy experience to use these materials at home with your children. And they really are a toy that will grow with your child. In addition to the play guides, there are also printable activity sheets and inspiration cards (see photo below) to spark your child’s imagination when creating with the materials. And, perhaps my favorite, printable storytelling placemats for encouraging higher-level language development- music to a speech therapist’s ears!
Clockwise from left: 1.”complete the picture” activity, 2. inspiration card for patterning and construction, 3. printable storytelling placemat.
Themed activities are wonderful for exploring interests and promoting learning at a deeper level, not to mention language development. Recently we explored an ocean theme at the twins’ cooperative preschool- the resources above would have been a perfect compliment to the hands-on learning experiences we enjoyed.
Invitations to Play and Learn
My twins have just turned three and my preferred way of teaching them at home is by presenting them with playful explorations inspired by the natural learning philosophies of Reggio Emilia and Montessori. I do believe that the environment is a powerful teacher and that presenting children with thoughtfully chosen, beautiful materials and observing how they interact with them is a great way to support and learn about their interests and strengths as learners and creators. Here are just a few of the ways we have been exploring our Spielgaben set- I am planning a follow-up post in the near future with many more ideas for open-ended explorations with Spielgaben materials. You can also see more of our Spielgaben fun by following along on Instagram (check out the #spielgaben hashtag for inspiration from lots of great bloggers).
Basic Invitation to Explore with Mirrors and Loose Parts
This basic, open-ended invitation was one of the first I set up using our new materials- using mirrored surfaces is one of our favorite ways to explore loose parts. Based on how the twins interact with the materials, I can then design more structured/focused invitations centered around their interests. As you can see here, I chose three of the different types of materials and placed them in attractive baskets and bowls on our well-loved acrylic mirror sheet for the twins to discover.
As you can see here, my daughter especially enjoys making patterns with the different shapes and colors. Here she is creating “a beautiful ice flower.” In addition to the visual-spatial awareness and basic math concepts that these activities promote, there is also a wonderful component of language stimulation as the children describe their creations and create elaborate stories to accompany them.
Sticky Shape Collage
Whenever I can, I like to introduce light into our explorations. Since both my children enjoyed creating patterns and designs on the mirrored surface, I expanded on this interest by taping a sheet of clear Contact paper sticky side out in a sunny window. My daughter especially enjoyed this activity and returned to it many days in a row, as you can see by the abundance of fingerprints on the sticky paper!
My son has a strong interest in sorting by shape and color, so this invitation was designed to stimulate that interest while still remaining relatively open-ended. To create it, I simply placed a styrofoam cone (found at any craft store in the floral department) in the middle of a thrifted tray and poked some of the long sticks included in the kit into the cone at an angle. I placed an array of different threading/lacing beads from the kit in the different sections of the tray along with some of the smallest circles. Both children naturally began to thread the different elements onto the sticks matching their corresponding colors. This invitation evoked lots of comparison and discussion of the different types of shapes, and the twins gained a deeper understanding of three new vocabulary words: sphere, cube, and cylinder!
Sorting By Size and Color with Bear Counters
One thing I love about the Spielgaben set is that I can combine it with materials we already own for even more learning opportunities. This invitation ended up being a fantastic exercise in higher level sorting- our bear counting set (previously owned) has bears of four different colors and three different sizes. It just so happens that the Spielgaben circles come in the same colors (plus a few more) in three different sizes. The twins were so excited to find each bear its own “home” by choosing the correct size and color of circle for each “Mama, Papa, and Baby bear.”
I hope you enjoyed this overview of the wonder that is Spielgaben and a few of the ways you can use it with young learners like mine. I wholeheartedly recommend this for anyone who is looking to invest in quality toys for play based learning at home or school. I can also with certainty that there are many ways these materials could be used for speech or occupational therapy as well. After fully exploring the materials and extensive resources that accompany them, I believe the price of the set is well-warranted. For ordering information, please visit the Spielgaben website.
In addition, Spielgaben is offering an exclusive discount to Twodaloo readers- AUD 360 | USD 328 | GBP 200 including shipping to AU | USA | UK which is over 10% off from the already discounted online price. All you need to do to claim your discount is send an email to [email protected] mentioning Twodaloo and you will be provided with a discount coupon.
Stay tuned for our follow up post with more ideas for using Spielgaben with young preschoolers…I can’t wait to show you more of what we’ve been up to!