In addition to working with young children, I also do arts and crafts with the After School Program (ages 5-12) at Earl Grey Community Centre in Winnipeg. Sometimes that extends into other activities like tinker trays, and recently it extended into the toy world with the Gears Gears Gears Super Set.
I divided the bucket into 3 medium sized bins and put them out on a big long table and it wasn’t long before kids were swarming like bees around a jar of honey. They figured out how to put the gears together more quickly than I did, which I think is a characteristic of great toys; it appeals to the Kid Brain. And then they were completely absorbed in putting together sculptures. Some wanted to see how tall they could make it before it fell over, some were wide, and some used only a handful of pieces. Then there was an audible gasp from one of the kids as their sculpture “came to life” and they discovered how to make the gears move, and then how to add more layers of gears and get them all moving at the same time. It’s an amazing activity for problem-solving too, in more ways than I expected.
The pieces quickly got gobbled up and within about 20-30 minutes the bins were empty. Then, without any hint or suggestion from anyone else, they started combining their structures. They worked at making them fit together and then adjusted the gears so they’d all turn at the same time. When they teamed up it became a different activity; one where they were problem-solving together and sharing ideas for how to make the structure bigger and/or better.
There did come a point when one or two structures seemed to have most of the gears so I said they had to share the pieces, but they could choose which parts of their sculpture to share. And they did. Pretty soon I just stood back and watched as they started talking to each other when they needed something. Then they took it one step further by bartering for pieces; “I’ll give you an orange connector if I can have the crank”.
Then I asked them what their factory or machine was making (a better question would have been “What are you making with the gears?”), but it added another level of creative play. One machine made banana ice cream, another an elevator, a turtle, and one made “Tim Horton’s secret ingredients!” At some point a couple of small cars appeared and a snow cone machine became a “car washing machine”, not a car wash, but a car washing machine.
And there are probably lots of other ways to extend the play with this set of gears, including my favourite activity, arts and crafts. The gears would make great stamps dipped in paint like Mary Catherine did at Fun-A-Day, or could be traced with thin markers or pencil crayons and then coloured.
These gears are also tough. Once or twice pieces popped into the air and onto the floor when an inventor was trying to make it fit somewhere it didn’t want to be. They used their fists to pound pieces together, but nothing broke. I expected to see tiny stems snapped off, or cracked connector pieces, but these gears are extremely sturdy. They survived 90 minutes of intense play from about 12-15 kids by the end of the first day, and many more sessions since.
The Gears Gears Gears Super Set includes 66 colourful gears, 36 square pillars, 31 six-way axles, 8 pillar connectors, 8 interlocking bases, and 2 crank handles, all contained in a plastic tub for storing in, and an activity guide. There are lots of small chokable pieces – which makes it a great activity for fine motor skills – but use caution if there are younger children around who still put things in their mouth. (The age recommendation is 3 and up.) It’s perfect for one to three children, but we did end up getting an additional set for the After School Program. Whether you’re buying it for one kid or many, it’s worth it for the skill development and ‘playability’ you get out of this unique and creative building toy.
Written by Alison McLean, educator and craft creator at Earl Grey Community Centre. You can follow Alison on facebook: Alison’s Crafts To Go and on Instagram: @alisonsmagicalcrafts.