If I had to name my son’s favourite toys, I wouldn’t think long. Lego and Magna-Tiles top the list, no competition there. They don’t get packed away for longer than a night, and whenever he develops an interest in something, it has to be built in either or both. So he built cars, trucks, whales, spaceships… and now he is into letters.
We always read a lot of books, but up until now haven’t made any attempts to study letters structurally. I had been waiting for my boy to show signs of interest before embarking on the long journey of teaching the alphabet, first words, reading, etc. I felt both expectant and nostalgic at the prospect. Ironically, when it happened, it was a very down-to-earth moment. In the last months, while moving and travelling, we visited more fast food restaurants than I’d like to admit. Then one day, about a month ago, Budster pointed at the big yellow “M” hanging over the shopping centre and said, “Hey, that’s M! Let’s go to McDonalds!”
That was the first time he showed that he could recognize letters.
Up until then, we had been pointing letters out to him when it seemed pertinent (you cannot miss that “M”!), and in a very relaxed manner. He didn’t seem impressed or interested. Over the last month, that has definitely changed. Letters were always available for him to play with, in the form of magnets on the fridge or in puzzles, but now he’s actually attracted to them. He points at letters he can recognize, and he’s proud of his ability to make letters with different materials. Buttons, beans, my necklace… and of course, Lego and Magna-Tiles!
Magna-Tiles, if you aren’t familiar with them, are exactly what their name suggests – magnetic building tiles that can assembled into surprisingly complicated geometric constructions, both two- and three-dimensional.
Budster is more fond of Lego when it comes to vehicles, but he thinks that Magna-Tiles make better spaceships. Animals are again easier to create with Lego, but for letters Magna-Tiles have become his favourite. We have a magnetic tiles Idea book with the first few letters in it, and Budster has been eager to repeat them. So, when making ABCs got old, we built the whole alphabet – 26 magnetic letters. I photographed it, so that Budster could practice on his own and so we could share our designs with other Magna-Tiles enthusiasts.
All 26 letters can be built with the Magna-Tiles 100 piece set. 64 pieces (2 sets of Magna-Tiles 32 piece sets) should be enough as well, but you may need to improvise a little. The letter X was the only one requiring all 20 equilateral triangles in the set.
A lot of projects that I write about require some level of collaboration from parents, but I’m happy to say that Budster doesn’t need any help to build these Magna-Tiles letters, nor does he even need my prompting. He enjoys building letters, just like he enjoys building spaceships, and does so whenever he feels like it. It sure warms my heart to come into the room and see some mirror-image Rs on the floor. Sometimes Budster uses the cards, but he also has some of them memorized. M is still one of his favourites, but he’s also fond of B, P and R.
Magna-Tiles are great for helping kids figure out how letters are built and what elements they may have in common. For instance, I think that Budster learned P and R quickly and developed a fondness for them when he found that he could change one into another. It was a discovery he made on his own, which made it even more special. Here he is, absorbed in making the transformation happen.
Magna-Tiles allow Budster to experiment with letters to his heart’s content and create variations in designs. Lately he’s taken to adding an extra dimension to his letters – literally.
When I see him play like this, I believe he’s really discovering letters for himself in a way that’s most understandable to him. It’ll probably take a while, but he has a lot of time. Of course, building letters with Magna-tiles isn’t the only thing we do! We keep reading books, make name puzzles, go on letter hunts, play alphabet games and just pay a little more attention to all the letters we see around.