GoldieBlox: so hot, still cold—and 8 “just right” toys to try instead.

GoldieBlox: so hot, still cold—and 8 “just right” toys to try instead.

To make a long story short: I love the idea of GoldieBlox but was terribly disappointed in the execution. For a list of toys and games I’d recommend instead, skip to the bottom of this post. 

Like every one else on the internet, I’d heard the buzz about start-up darling GoldieBlox (if nothing else, you probably saw the Super Bowl commercial), but hadn’t bothered to order a kit for my girls. But last month I saw the kits in person at a local toy store and picked one up.

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I chose GoldieBlox and the Dunk Tank (about $20) because it was less aggressively girly than GoldieBlox and the Parade Float, and $5 cheaper than GoldieBlox and the Spinning Machine.

Sarah, my 9-year-old, wanted to rip into the box from the moment she saw it. Lucy, age 6, was less enthusiastic. I was surprised that Silas (age 4) wanted to play, but he did.

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The GoldieBlox construction sets are story-driven: the box contained a storybook and a project. The premise here: Goldie needs to devise a way to get her dirty dog clean in time for the carnival, and solves the problem with this dunk tank contraption.

goldieblox-2

Sarah did not want any help with the project. She and Silas read the story, followed the directions, and engineered their dunk tank.

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The problem? It didn’t work.

Sarah checked and re-checked her work (and I tried to subtly check it, too). She’d done everything right. But the construction was, by design, flimsy. It just didn’t work like it was supposed to work.

goldieblox-6

My take: If you want to build girls’ confidence in engineering skills, maybe you should design a kit that does what it’s supposed to do, eh? 

Sarah’s (spontaneous, 100% unprompted) take: Mom: do NOT recommend GoldieBlox on your blog. It’s way too frustrating and doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do.

goldieblox-7

GoldieBlox has clearly captured the zeitgeist with their toys, and I’m hopeful for their future products. But I’d wait for those future products instead of buying up their current offerings.

If you want great toys for your future innovators (of either gender), try these instead:

The Gears Gears Gears set from Learning Resources is highly versatile and fun (and educational) for a wide age range. $25.

We love our Quadrilla marble railway (about $70-$100)—but there are plenty of similar, less-expensive options.

• Snap Circuits Jr is a wonderful introduction to electronics (and the science behind it) for 7-15 year olds (or even younger, with grown-up help). $22.

• It’s hard to beat a classic. Fun fact: LEGO says girls tend to like the architecture sets more than, say, Ninjago, so try this Creator treehouse set. ($30.) For architecturally-minded kids who have proven their love of LEGOs will last, the super-cool architecture studio could be a worthwhile investment. (Emphasis on investment: it’s $200+.)

• Of course I’m putting some books on the list. The Everything Kids’ Science Experiments Book: Boil Ice, Float Water, Measure Gravity-Challenge the World Around You! delivers on it’s science-y promises. $7.

• We’re fans of the Draw 50 series around here, especially Draw 50 Buildings and Other Structures. Drawing is a required skill for many STEM pursuits, so start them young (and start them with architecture). $9.

• It’s not aimed at “young engineers,” per se, but we’ve found our Kiwi Crate subscription kits to be lots of fun, easy to use, and good for developing problem-solving skills.

I also like the sound of Groovy Lab in a Box (formerly Einstein in a Box), a subscription focused on STEM experiment for ages 8+, but haven’t tried them … yet.

My kids don’t know it yet, but fooling around with circuits and science projects is high on our family to-do list this summer. hoping to spend lots of time exploring these kinds of toys and activities during our summer break.

Share your favorite toys for young innovators in comments. If you’ve tried GoldieBlox, I’d love to hear if you had a better experience than I did.

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50 comments

  1. Amy says:

    Lots of great ideas! We are still in the Duplo phase of LEGOs here, but may make the switch to the littler pieces soon. Our favorites have been the Read And Build sets that come with story books. The books feature true-to-size profile pictures of the pieces, so you can actually line the pieces up with the picture on the page, and then snap them together. It’s great for little ones who are just learning to follow building instructions!

  2. Clara says:

    K’nex is also wonderful. It uses combinations of rods and connectors to build just about anything you want to. Its quality is similar to Lego, but it has more moving parts, so you can build things like roller coasters with it. Highly recommend it.

  3. Anne! Thank you for writing this! I’ve had my eye on GoldieBlox, but have had my reservations b/c I just don’t see why something has to be *pink* to hold a girl’s attention. My daughters are still young (2, 4) but they like their big brothers’ non-pink toys. Imagine that! For engineering toys (in addition to Legos, of course!) we love Haba marble tracks and Tegu magnetic blocks/wheels (both of these fall in the “investment” category of which you spoke!). My boys are also big on folding airplane instruction books. I am SO excited about the science boxes that you linked to. I *think* it may be the perfect gift for my oldest who’s birthday is coming up soon. But I couldn’t find anything on the website about the appropriate age-range. Were you able to uncover anything on that? I’m probably staring right at it but not seeing it. Thanks again for these great ideas!

    • Anne says:

      The creators say the science boxes are for ages 8 and up. My friend Mandi at Life Your Way says that can go a little lower with close adult supervision.

  4. We’ve had good luck at our house with magnatiles, marble tracks (not sure of the brand), zoobs, electronic snap circuits, georello tech gears set, two sets of wooden castle blocks, and legos of every shape and size. The nice thing about sets like these, is most of them can be added to, which are gift ideas that actually get used, and don’t add to the kid-clutter.

  5. Louise says:

    That’s fascinating about the Lego research about architectural vs. movie based, because that’s certainly proving true with my two (5 and 6 years old) girls. They love the Lego Friends, not because they’re pink and purple and “girly,” but because you actually get to build something creative, not just a scene from a movie (although after watching bits and pieces of the Clone Wars cartoon with me, the 6yo IS begging for a Star Wars set for her next birthday).

    Thanks for the heads-up on the Goldie Blox. I wasn’t thrilled with their emphasis on “it’s engineering … FOR GIRLS!!!!” instead of just “it’s engineering for ALL!” and knowing that the sets don’t even work definitely puts them in the “don’t buy” category.

  6. Abby says:

    My brother bought Goldie Blox for my (then) 8 yr old for Christmas. She played with it regularly for a few weeks, and now it sits in a box in her room somewhere. I will say, though, that she has the Spinning Wheel set, and it’s worked well. There just isn’t much to do with it, other than the initial premise of the story. I think we might donate the story/toy to our favorite Kindergarten teacher.
    Thanks for the other recommendations, she loves her Lego Friends, and I’ve wondered what else to get her (although, we’ve been in a fashion design stage for the past few years as well, and we’re talking about learning to use a sewing machine now).

    • Anne says:

      Good to hear it stood up to several weeks of play. The Amazon reviews for the spinning wheel set are much higher than they are on the other sets. (That might have been good to know before I bought!)

  7. Catharine says:

    We had a very similar experience! My girl loves to build and it was so disappointing. Can’t wait to try these others!

  8. Sherri says:

    I needed a gift last month for a dear friend’s 9 year old grandson and found a recommendation for Rush Hour by ThinkFun. It was a huge hit with him and his parents — they’re still playing now that they’re back home — and I think that it might be what some of you are looking for for your sons and daughters. Check the reviews on Amazon. (not affiliated)

    • Clara says:

      My youngest son played Rush Hour for a long time, and it is a great game. I think of it more as a spatial game, rather than a building set, and it’s limited by the number of puzzle cards there are to solve.

        • There’s also “Safari Rush Hour” (with animals instead of cars) — my 8, 6 & 4YOs all love Rush Hour, and the cards are divided into easy, medium and advanced. I also like that it’s small and easy to put away and take out — and transport, since it comes in a drawstring bag! Perfect little travel game. (I think it’s for sale on Zulily today, too.)

          Lincoln Logs are more low-key architecturally, but my kids love them as well!

      • Tuija says:

        There are some extra card packs for Rush Hour. But, in our experience, once the game has been on the shelf at home a while, you can just re-solve the original puzzles, because you don’t remember the solutions any more. That’s what my son does. I actually have a couple of additional card packs hidden away in a closet, but he hasn’t needed them yet. 🙂 In addition to Rush Hour, he has several other similar puzzle games.

        As for construction, we have Legos. (Creator, City, Friends…). And some Geomag pieces (http://www.geomagworld.com/eng/).

        Snap Circuits look like something we’d love to have. But they don’t seem to available here in Europe, except if we buy online, and that would mean paying $34,95 for a set AND $35 for getting it shipped here…. isn’t going to happen.

  9. What ages would you say the Everything Kids’ Science Experiments book is for? I keep looking at it and almost buying it then changing my mind. My kids are 5 and 2. The five-year-old is pretty smart but I don’t want him to be frustrated if experiments are above his level.

  10. My daughter (4) received the Parade Float one for her birthday and we had the same issues–the pieces didn’t stay together properly and she got frustrated. And baby brother got a kick out of throwing the very small pieces. Sigh.

    Love Sarah’s unsolicited input for the blog :). Didn’t she want one for herself at some point? I’ll bet it’d be great :).

  11. Jennifer says:

    I personally don’t like anything that is marketed as for girls OR for boys. It was very frustrating when my son wanted a play kitchen and the only ones in our price range were pink and purple. We have discovered learning “kits” are not really for us. Except the snap circuits.

  12. Becca says:

    As far as books go, most nights we like doing a couple of “problems” from “Bedtime Math” with our preschooler. It’s a book that grows with kids (three levels of problems) and helps kids (um, and me) think of math and problem solving in silly, everyday ways.

  13. Scott says:

    Our daughters love the Lego Friends sets. They have a ton of them, and I’m glad for it. They also love the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings/Hobbit sets (because we’re big fantasy nerds). My wife looked at the Goldieblox sets for Christmas, but in the end, we just went with some more Legos because of some of the reviews she read.

    Actually, though, it’s not just the girls who love Legos. My wife and I like building with them too!

  14. Anne says:

    Glad to read the review! Do you or anyone else remember Construx? My brother loved those. I am curious about the Draw 50 book. My 6yo is a budding artist (major inspiration from dePaola’s The Art Lesson), and I am starting to keep an eye out for things to inspire him more. I’m also excited for him to be old enough for snap circuits. They sound fun! I’ve had to hold off on buying them for other holidays/birthdays. Seems like a great list, Anne! Curious if the Everything book is aimed at a certain age……..will go look at link.

  15. Melissa says:

    Thanks for the review and great suggestions. My husband is pretty opposed to things designed specifically for girls. Doesn’t understand why toys should be feeding stereotypes. He and our oldest daughter (6) love building legos together, but stick with the Creator series. They are so great – offer more than one building option and have so many neat working parts. The lego people in those pink and purple friends sets aren’t even wearing appropriate clothing half the time. Just doesn’t make sense to start that at age 6…

  16. Jennifer says:

    Thanks for this honest take — I’d expect nothing less from you! I was so excited by their commercial, but having looked at the kits and knowing that NO stores are displaying models (which to mean speaks to a lack of confidence in their performance), we passed and bought some Lego instead. (We also have gears, a marble run, and a few other favourites, including Tegu.)

    While I find the need for the “engineering – for girls” concept unfortunate, I do think its sadly necessary — for relatives, or less “enlightened” parents, or even for the girl who is drawn to/socialized to love pink and purple everything and has already internalized concepts of girls v boys toys. But they OR any other engineering toy company could have done it differently.

  17. Laura says:

    My 8 year old got a Roominate (the deluxe set) for her birthday and loves it. It combines building, art and simple circuits.

  18. penny says:

    My K students love building with Giant Polydron Sets. They create amazing things and their spacial development is amazing. We also use Simple Circuits.

  19. Kate says:

    My daughter got the spinning set for her 8th birthday – built it and never touched it again. I was disappointed in the colors and the cuteness factor and she prefers much more open ended play and creative endeavors. I am looking forward to checking out some of your other suggestions.

  20. Beth says:

    We love magnatiles! My girls are 3 and 5 and they can play with those for hours. They’re a little limited in what they can make, but throw in a few plastic animals and they’re good to go for a really long time. When my sister and I were 6 and 8 we spent three months in the woods and were allowed to bring our dolls, art supplies and one other toy – we chose our Construx set, which is basically K’nex. We were perfectly happy! Nature, imagination, each other, and something to create with. Oh and super awesome parents too.

  21. This is one of the best posts I’ve read this week! My girls are both into STEM activities, and I’ve too heard the hype of these toys. So glad to see that they need a bit more work on their execution so I don’t waste my money and frustrate my girls.

  22. Deborah says:

    Sadly, we had a similar experience with the parade float set. It can be built, but doesn’t stay together to actually play with. Additionally, the pieces are impossible for my kids (4 yr old girl and 6 yr old boy) to get out by themselves.

  23. Heather says:

    My 4 year old received Goldieblox and the spinning machine for Christmas. She had fun and her 6 year old sister and 8 year old cousin did too. It helped tHat we went to their website and watched a few videos for some new ideas. The catapult was fun. We later purchased the dunk tank and were dissapointed because things didn’t stay together. It was frustrating. We also love Legos. And Geoboards! Making shapes, paterns and fractions with rubber bands is simple, easy and fun.

  24. anne says:

    I LOVE the comments about the issue that the product was focused on “girls.” I never understood why anyone would buy these. The product talks about how certain toys were geared toward boys, and did the exact thing they were noting in their marketing as bad. I would never even consider buying this product because it separates gender based on something that is not gender based. If we were talking puberty product, then by all means buy a gender specific “product,” otherwise, it’s all nonsense!

  25. chantale says:

    I bought the spinning machine today and we got a free kit so I picked the dunk tank ( looked like more fun then the parade float). We opened the spinning machine first, I read she built, she loved pulling the string then took the book and built a few other options in the back of the book maybe 20 mins of play. She then opened the dunk tank.. first of all I didn’t like that the book was more accordion type thing not a book, she didn’t even want to head the story. So we went to work on building the dunk tank. IT kept falling apart very frustrating even for me. I wish it was more secure going into the blocks and that there was stoppers in the blocks so you couldn’t insert the tubes too far. We got it working and she had a blast plopping the puppy into the water and making a mess, but it broke a few times and I tried to fix it and I just couldn’t get it to stay together I was very tempted to super glue it together. After a while she just played with the bowl of water, ball and dog giving it a bath and making it splash. My daughter is 5. I’m not sure this game will keep coming out but I work with preschoolers and school age so I figure I can introduce this to them when we get bored of it.

  26. Lisa says:

    My 4 year old has 3 sets that she plays with with her 7 year old brother a lot. We have spinning machine, dunk tank, and one other I can’t remember right now. Goldieblox redesigned the purple corner blocks and they now have stops and hold very secure. I picked up her sets on clearance at Target for $4 each. Does she have to have them pink to enjoy them? No. But it sure does hold her attention better because she is so girly. I have no idea where that came from since I’m a tom boy myself! You can request the new purple blocks for free from their website. My kids are able to build them and they have all worked for them. I hope that helps some of you!

  27. Robin says:

    I recently watched a Goldieblox video of their booth at the NY toy con. They made a Rube Goldburg machine wall display from their pieces. I’m looking for a similar type of toy for my son but I’m not seeing much options other than car tracks and k’nex. You mentioned Kiwi Crate, they make a kit called Tinker Crate for engineering. Also, if you are interested in computuers and coding there are some interesting kits avalible. I really like the interactive conductive paint and playdoh ideas here: http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/mar/05/kidtech-kits-tried-and-tested

  28. Laura says:

    I’m so sorry that there were so many disappointing experiences! My daughter, 6, has the spinning wheel, the parade float, and the big box. She quickly read the stories and built all the things and was really pleased. Now every Saturday, she gets them out and uses the pieces to create her own contraptions. Last week, she watched a YouTube Kid video about the dunk tank and used the pieces she has to make her own!

  29. We purchased Goldie Blox and the Spinning Machine shortly after its release. Although the kit worked OK, my daughter quickly completed all the activities in the book and found her own creations limited by the number of pieces in the set. It’s rarely come off the closet shelf since the week she got it.

    This past Christmas, however, I purchased this Junior Engineer Magic Gears kit — http://www.amazon.com/Junior-Engineer-Magic-Gears-110/dp/B00LGO1NQO/ref=sr_1_3?s=toys-and-games&ie=UTF8&qid=1432220736&sr=1-3&keywords=junior+engineer
    — and it became an instant favorite. We found it to be far more versatile, and my kids love the big creations it allows them to produce. I also like the size of the pieces. My 18-month-old can safely play alongside his sisters, and I don’t have to worry about choking hazards. We’ve since added this set — http://www.amazon.com/Junior-Engineer-160-Science-tool-Kit/dp/B00LGNV90U/ref=pd_sim_sbs_21_2?ie=UTF8&refRID=1TMFRXS00EZZPSK29BP2 — to our collection. As an aside, both sets come with manuals that include dozens of design ideas (not the handful Goldilocks offers).

    LEGO, Tinkertoys, Kid K’nex, Magnatiles, Magformers, Citiblocs, Artec blocks, and Wedgits have also been favorites.

  30. Becca says:

    My sister is a physicist by training, and now teaches physics, chemistry, and engineering to high school kids. She introduced us to Goldie Blox, because they are much better at specifically teaching engineering concepts than other toys. She’s huge at encouraging girls to do engineering – precisely because so few of them do! Her engineering classes typically have 3-5 girls in them, and 20-25 boys. Boys sort of internalise the message that engineering is for them; girls don’t. So if an engineering toy aimed at girls encourages girls to study engineering, that’s a good thing.

    • Jennifer says:

      Thank You!! I am a female in the engineering world and I so frequently run into the conversations in real life that i saw attached to the comments in this blog “you don’t need to have GIRL engineering toys to encourage engineering”. That statement is true but my question is… given the extreme difference in numbers from men to women in the engineering field, why is it a bad thing for a toy to be a female geared engineering toy? Much of the world indicates (whether it is intentional or no is up for debate) that you cannot be a girly girl and be an engineer, I encounter that opinion far more frequently than would like in my professional life. If a toy can show that you can be a girly girl and like engineering and encourages more girls to given engineering a try than I am all for it. If you only choose gender neutral toys than this one is not for you and do not purchase -simple. For our part, our daughter gets princesses, marbles runs, dolls, legos, toys to dig in the mud, and yes goldi blox. She is the most girly tom boy I know and I look forward to her taking the world by storm when she gets older.

      • Becca says:

        My sister isn’t girly; but her daughter is, which as a huge shock to her system! I’m also not convinced that Goldie Blox aren’t gender neutral. They have a female protagonist, but so what? Half the toys and more than half the books out there have male protagonists but we don’t get our knickers in a knot that Harry Potter isn’t for girls. It won’t kill boys to play with dolls or with other toys that have a strong female character. My son loves Goldie Blox as much as my daughter. And that’s a good thing! I want him to have female role models that are smart, competent, strong, and able to solve problems without having to run to a man for the answers (yes, Barbie, I’m looking at you.)

  31. Vic says:

    At what age did you start using any of the above? My LO is 2 and I don’t want to get something that she’s too young for but just curious when you started?

  32. I have heard the same things… I have been watching Goldiblox from it’s inception on kickstarter… I was so excited about Debbie’s success… because at the time, I was working on my own concept for a construction toy aimed at girls. It has been disappointing for sure, I had high hopes for Goldiblox! I have spent the last 4 years, refining and perfecting my own construction system, and would LOVE it if you would check out the website and give your feedback! We will be launching kickstarter in January and could use all the support we can get!! http://www.realmtoy.com – THANKS!! -Heather Jichi

  33. Trish says:

    I can’t believe your daughter had such a hard time with the dunk tank set. My daughter got it last summer, when she was 6. She’s an advanced reader and immediately opened it and set it up. They played with it for hours and never said it wasn’t working as hoped. Granted, this wasn’t her first set but she’s never had difficulty with any of the sets she has gotten (I think at this point she has most of them).

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