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Monthly Archives: December 2013

Goldie Blox and the Spinning Machine – Review

goldieblox2There’s a lot of argument over this toy: is it feminist, or does it perpetuate pink princess stereotypes? Do girls and boys play and think differently? If so, should we use those differences to lure girls into STEM? Or should we assume that boys and girls actually tend to play and think the same way, when allowed to?

I don’t have answers to all these questions. But I can tell you I was really excited about this toy when it was first announced. Now that my five year old daughter has actually played with it, I’m a little disappointed. Ultimately I’d say it’s not worth the money, and other building toys are better. Upshot – the best thing about Goldie Blox is that it inspired me to buy some Tinker Toys for my daughter.

Here’s the good stuff:

  • Unlike so many cool building toys, here’s one that specifically welcomes girls. Too many nifty toys have only boys pictured on packaging, along with the blue, black, and green that places them squarely on the boy side of the toy aisle divide.
  • No batteries. I think this not only decreases the annoying factor for those around the playing child, but encourages more imaginative play.
  • It does offer some interesting possibilities for building and physics play.
  • The main character of the story is a girl who likes to build things and solve problems.

The drawbacks come in two categories – the toy actually has some sexist elements*, and the play value of the toy is limited:

  • Its premise is basically, “Can we make math pink?”
  • There are five character figures you can use in your constructions. Of the five figures, four are MALE. The female character is a ballerina. (Note to Goldie Blox: If you’re trying to make a feminist toy, you really should avoid the trope that men are the default, and try to keep the ratio of genders closer to real life. Maybe even three girls and two boys!)
  • Suggested play is focused on making different shapes with the ribbon as you set it up to spin the characters. There are no construction goals beyond “spin the characters.” Everything beyond that is about visual design. (Because girls don’t accomplish objectives – they make things pretty, teehee!)
  • There are actually further, more interesting ways to play with this, but they probably require far more pieces than come with the set. See below.

The tantalizing thing about this toy is that you could play with it in many other ways. There are slots on the top and on the sides of the board that accept the spindles. Likewise, the wheels have all sorts of holes, some of which fit tightly with a spindle, and some of which allow it to move freely. The blocks can be used as connectors, so you could build structures and include spinning, turning, and swinging elements. If only you had way more pieces.

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Goldie Blox’s website draws attention to both the possibilities and the insufficiencies of their product on the Play page, which features constructions far more imaginative than the suggestions in the instruction booklet. However, many of them require a lot more pieces than come in the box. You can theoretically order a “Blox + Bits” expansion set, but currently it’s sold out. And honestly, if you ponied up $30-$60 (!) for ten measly spindles, do you really want to fork over $9.99 for some more?

Bottom line – this is an underdeveloped, under-equipped building kit with a slightly novel mechanical aspect (the ribbon) and a lot of flashy marketing. I don’t hate it, but I don’t think it’s worth the $29.99 I spent. I certainly don’t recommend spending $60 or more for it!

Alternative ideas include:

  • Tinker Toys, which have a similar pieces and connection, and allow spinning and rotating elements.
  • K’Nex, which explore gears, wheels, axles, levers, pulleys, incline planes, bridge engineering, etc.
  • Lincoln Logs – a classic.
  • For older kids, good old Erector sets.
  • Of course, there’s always Lego. Add girl figures to taste.
  • Toys that explore other ways of building such as wooden blocks, magnetic building kits, marble runs, snap circuits, vehicle models, anatomical models, and so on.

* I hear tell that the follow-up game is even worse, the goal being to help a friend win a princess pageant and ride a parade float. I haven’t seen that game, so I can’t comment, but it seems consistent with Goldie Blox’s intentional “girls are girlie” approach.

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