Kontu blocks are a wonderful, open-ended resource for introducing children to STEM - sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics. They consist of wooden trays with slots for round, magnetic disks (or blocks)- from one single block per tray and up to five or ten slots (depending on the pack size purchased). Each block and tray is made of rubberwood, and the magnets are safely encased inside the wood. These features enable them to be used to explore mathematical concepts, such as counting, number sense, addition, & subtraction, as well as concepts of physics, such as magnetism, stacking, motion and energy. Each pack contains some prompt cards for activities and learning concepts. Here are some activity ideas to promote play-based learning with Kontu that we have enjoyed.
Mathematics (in order of skill level).
1. Have your child count the blocks as they place them in the trays, or remove blocks from the trays. This reinforces the skill of one-to-one correspondence, meaning the recognition that each item is counted once, and has a value of one. It also teaches the skill of cardinality, which is the understanding that the last number word said when counting is the number of items in all.
2. Count the blocks as you stack them. The magnets allow the stacks to be built quite high. Again this focuses on one to one correspondence and cardinality.
3. Arrange the same number of blocks in different ways and have them count the blocks each time.Discuss how different arrangements of the same number of blocks does not change the value (total number of blocks). School aged children may be able to subtilise, or determine the number of blocks without needing to individually count each block.
4. Ordering blocks. Lay out two trays of different values, for example a tray of 2 and a tray of 5. Ask the child to choose which is bigger. This reinforces understanding of number value. Older children could order the trays numerically.
5. Addition with blocks and/or trays. Lay out a tray of blocks, then ask the child to place one more block down. How many blocks are there now? Start addition exercises by adding one more. Once the child is confident, you can add two or three or more to the base number!
6.Subtraction with blocks. Lay out a certain number of blocks and then remove one block. Ask the child how many blocks remain. Younger children may need to count each individual block, whereas older children will automatically understand there is one less block. Make the task more challenging by subtracting a larger number of blocks each time.
7. Have the child make towers of different sizes in order of value. For example a tower that is one block high will come before a tower that is two blocks high, and so on. Similarly they can arrange the trays in value order.
8. Friends of 10. Ask the child to use the trays to make 10. How many different ways can they make 10? Perhaps they used the trays of 2, 3 and 5 blocks? Or 1, 2, 3, and 4 blocks? Perhaps they used one tray of 10?
1. Ask the child to place the blocks into a tray. What do they notice? If placed in one way, the magnets attract. If the block is placed the wrong way, the magnets will repel. The block may even flip by itself as a result of the magnetic force.
2. Motion. Take two blocks. Place the first block on the table and use the repelling force of the second block to propel the first block on the table forward. Have a race and see who wins. Discuss the techniques you used to move the blocks faster.
3. Hold a tray upside down over the blocks and see how many blocks automatically lift and position themselves in the tray.
4. Place one block down, then lay a 5 tray over the top (right way up) so that the block is on the underside of the third slot in the tray. Place two additional blocks on the first and fifth slot (on top). Use the repelling force of a fourth block to make the tray spin. You can make it spin clockwise and anticlockwise. Again, discuss the techniques for making the tray move faster or slower, and the direction of the spin.
5. Use the same structure and spin the tray using the force of your hand. This is kinetic energy as opposed to magnetic force that is causing the structure to spin.
6. Fill the trays with other items around the house to test if any items are magnetic. Metal objects are often magnetic - so screws make an interesting choice. Just be cautious of sharp items or choking hazards and provide adequate supervision to your children. Similarly you can stick the blocks to different surfaces to determine if any are magnetic. Try a whiteboard, refrigerator or car for some commonly magnetic household surfaces.
7. Make a balancing structure. Ask your child to build something using the trays and blocks. What do they notice? You can discuss how the weight on each side of the structure should balance in order for the structure to stand on its own.
8. Make a moving structure. Because of the round shaped blocks, you can connect two trays by stacking a third tray over the top of the first and last blocks of the base trays. The base blocks can act as hinges and you can move the trays into different shapes or configurations.
These are just a few learning possibilities. More examples are included on the activity cards that come in each box. As a bonus, the trays can also be used for dry sensory play! Try putting them in your sand tray or filling them with rainbow rice for a completely different learning experience.
Here is a quick video of how my almost-3-year-old and I explored maths and physics using Kontu blocks.
Kontu blocks are available at The Curated Parcel. You can get 10% off with code learning10. We hope you enjoy them as much as we do!