One of the cool things about having a kid is getting the chance to play with all of their stuff. It’s not the top reason for having a kid obviously, but it’s certainly in the top 3. Although I had a lot of toys when young, things have come on loads in the last *coughs* 20ish *coughs* years, so it’s pretty cool to see the different things available to occupy their little minds these days.
At the end of last year, I was contacted about reviewing two different kids’ toy brands that I’d not heard of before. The first was SmartGames, who produce a range of logic games and puzzles for all ages, and the second was SmartMax who have created magnetic construction and building sets.
Toddler L and I have been playing with two SmartMax sets – Playground XL and Start Plus – for around six months now. Below you’ll find my review of these cool toddler toys:
The products are described as:
SmartMax is the award-winning magnetic construction system which allows children of all ages the chance to be creative, to learn and to explore the fascinating world of magnetism and most importantly, to have fun. SmartMax is made from high quality materials, which make the parts really strong. SmartMax parts are glued together and ultrasonicly welded for final assembly, plus all parts are bigger than 3cm to make them safe for toddlers.
Start Plus: With oversized SmartMax parts, young children can safely discover the magic of magnetism. As they grow, children will learn how to build larger and more creative structures. The 30 piece set contains:
- 8 x metal balls
- 4 x curved bars
- 12 x medium bars
- 6 x long bars
Playground XL: Build an extra-large playground of tubes. Create the wildest structures and let the balls roll. All parts can easily be clicked onto the bars and are 100% compatible with all other Smartmax sets. The 46 piece set contains:
- 6 x panels with hole
- 2 x funnels
- 13 x metal balls
- 15 x medium bars
- 4 x long bars
- 4 x curved tubes
- 2 x straight tubes
Each set arrived in a separate box with all of the pieces nicely packaged. Once everything was taken out, this left us with over 70 individual pieces. The first thing I noticed was the bright colours, followed by the sturdy build. The pieces were bigger and chunkier than I envisaged, but this made sense as they’re targeted at the toddler market. Unfortunately, the Start Plus and Playground XL didn’t come with a storage box – as an aside, the Build XXL does – so I had to find another box to store all of the pieces in.
It wasn’t long before we were trying out and playing with the sets. Rather than other construction toys like DUPLO or Mega Bloks where you click things together, SmartMax uses magnets to connect the pieces. The ‘cold’ colours (green, blue, purple and white) have their north poles directed outwards, whilst the ‘warm’ colours (red, orange, yellow and pink) have their south poles directed outwards. This means that all ‘cold’ bars can be connected to ‘warm’ bars, but ‘cold’ with ‘cold’ and ‘warm’ with ‘warm’ repel. The grey balls can connect to multiple bars, whether these are ‘warm’ or ‘cold’.
We’ve been using the SmartMax kits to do various different things. Firstly – and most simply – we’ve used it for shape, size and colour recognition. The complexity of what we’ve done has grown more difficult as she’s got older. For instance, in the early days I’d ask questions like “what colour is this”. As she’s developed this has become “can you gather all of the short yellow bars” or “can you group all of the bars by colour”. Simple games, but really good for developing language and recognition.
Secondly, we’ve used the kits to build shapes and objects in a 2D fashion. This has included following some of the ‘designs’ in the instruction book – boat, dinosaur, train, face etc – but also going off-piste and using our imagination. This will either be trying to create something out of nothing, or taking requests from Toddler L. Unsurprisingly, this approach often results in some pretty weird looking creations. “What do you mean you can’t tell that I’ve made Peppa Pig jumping in a muddy puddle?!”
Thirdly, we’ve used the various pieces to build towers and structures. Again, the instruction book gives you an idea of some of the things you can build, but the great thing is that your only limit is your imagination – well, and the number of bars / balls you own. It takes a bit of practice to figure out how best to put the things together to create a sturdy structure – particularly with a toddler ‘helping’ by adding bars / balls where they don’t below! Toddler L isn’t at a point where she can build structures like this yet, but she enjoys passing me the bits and shouting “higher, higher, Daddy”.
Finally, there’s the tubes and funnels from the Playground XL kit which can form ball runs. We’ve mainly used these in two different ways – (1) attaching them together to create a long tube (below), or (2) incorporating with the bars, balls and panels to make a structure (main blog post photo). Once built, you can then use any remaining grey balls to pop in one end and watch them come out the other.
We’ve had the two SmartMax kits for around six months now and I’m genuinely impressed. I’ve not seen anything like it before and it makes a nice change to other building and construction toys. During the time we’ve played with it, I’ve seen a change in how Toddler L plays. I’ve also seen a change in her development, which is surely aided by toys such as this. For instance, gross-motor skills like hand-eye coordination, as well as her cognitive ability such as creativity, logical thinking and problem solving.
The toy has grown with her as she’s got older and I imagine it will continue to do so – it won’t be long before she’s building towers herself without my help. SmartMax also sell numerous other ranges – which are all compatible – so the collection can grow based on interests too, e.g. they have a vehicle range.
The SmartMax Start Plus set costs £29.99 and the SmartMax Playground XL costs £44.99. My first reaction was that this felt a little pricey, however you get a lot for your money and the cost is in line with other building toys. As such, I’d say it’s worth the money.
I’ve been really impressed with the SmartMax Start Plus and Playground XL sets. We’ve had a lot of fun playing with them and have found numerous different ways to use them as part of Toddler L’s development. This has ranged from shape and colour recognition through to more complex builds where she’s my able assistant. The build quality is great, they are perfect for toddler hands and the magnetic element adds a different dimension.
I try to find constructive criticism when it comes to reviews, but I’ve really struggled here. If I’m being picky, I’d perhaps like some storage box / bag included. In addition, I’d probably suggest that you’d need more than one set too, otherwise what you build might be a little limited.
All in all though, we’ve loved playing with the SmartMax sets and are really chuffed to have been introduced to a brand we didn’t know previously. At this age, building and construction seems to be dominated by DUPLO and Mega Bloks, but this really does provide an alternative, which arguably encourages more skill in your little one.
The DADventurer Star Rating
5 out of 5 stars
N.B. This review was written by me (Dave) and represents my honest opinion of the product. The magnetic building sets were sent to me by SmartMax with the purpose of writing an honest product review in exchange for the product.
N.B. This post includes an affiliate link(s). For more info, read my Disclosure policy.