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I’ve got a review for you tonight. It’s something that you’ve probably seen around lately, and something that has been at the top my wishlist for a little while. Tonight I’m reviewing Sumblox.
When I am reviewing a product, I first give it straight to Jack (7 years) and Sarah (5 years) to see how they make sense of it. I ask myself;
- Does the product do what it claims to do?
- Can the kids use it easily or are they confused by the product?
- Are they interested in the product?
- Does the product stand up to the kids’ play?
- Does it hold their interest?
- Do they return to the product on their own?
- Is the product open-ended enough to be used in many different ways?
- And lastly, would I buy it?
After Jack and Sarah have had about a week to play with a product, I will usually sit down with them and play in a more structured way.
What are Sumblox?
Sumblox are a set of wooden blocks shaped in the numerals 1-10. Each block is proportional in size to the value of the number. So a 2 block is twice as tall as a 1 block and a 10 block is ten times as tall.
By manipulating the blocks and stacking them in different combinations, children can learn to recognise numerals, explore addition and subtraction and practice basic multiplication, division and fractions.
Kids can see patterns in numbers easily and gain a better understanding of the relationships between numbers. They can see how numbers change in predictable patterns by the differing heights of the block towers.
Our set of Sumblox are from Finlee & Me. They retail for $219.95 with free delivery.
Ok, so what’s in the box?
The home set comes with 43 solid hardwood beech blocks including:
- ten 1 blocks
- four each of 2,3,4,5,6,7,8 and 9 blocks
- one 10 block
- one activity card detailing two games
So how did Sumblox stack up?
First response was definitely one of excitement. Jack and Sarah instantly recognised that the blocks were numerals and almost straight away started lining them up from one to ten which allowed them to discover that the blocks grew in size.
After they did this a few times, they started stacking and building. At this stage, they hadn’t discovered that when stacked together, different combinations of numbers could be equal.
It was Jack who first discovered this – maybe three or four days later – whilst watching Sarah build a wall. He noticed that she had stacked a 2 and a 3 on top of each other and that they were the same height as the 5 block next to it. He left this for another day or two before exploring this new relationship again.
It was almost a week after we had got the Sumblox before I noticed him return to investigate this new discovery. And just as intended, Jack discovered how to add single-digit numbers with Sumblox. This held his interest for a while; returning to the basket of Sumblox for a day or two.
After watching Jack and Sarah play freely with the blocks over about a week, I’d say they returned to them a couple times a day; mostly for free stacking but sometimes to explore the relationships between numbers.
When we sat down to play with the Sumblox together, I showed Jack and Sarah how they can make two towers of different blocks and if they lined up, then their value would be equal. This was a fun game for a while. Jack can count-on so was able to add in his head, Sarah enjoyed using a calculator.
I also showed them how they could work out simple multiplication sums by stacking blocks of the same numeral and looking for the block which matched the height of their tower. This was a little confusing for Sarah, but I could see that Jack understood. I left them to explore that concept a little more.
Ok, so that’s the pros. What about the cons?
There were two things that I immediately noticed about the Sumblox design. Firstly, the design of the 1 means that it lays flat rather than standing up like a 1 would normally. This confused Jack and Sarah at first (but they soon got used to it).
And secondly, the design of the four means that it has to lay flat when it’s on its own (otherwise it’s the same height as the 5 – so again, not standing up like it would normally), but when it’s stacked with other blocks, it stands upright. This aspect still confuses my kids and a couple of times they have used the four incorrectly and the sum hasn’t added up correctly. I think I might need to give them some direct instruction on how to use the four.
Even though the box says ages 2-11, unless you have the school set (of 100 blocks), I would probably change that to ages 2-8. The home set is fantastic for teaching children some of those early maths concepts like number recognition, adding to ten, adding and subtracting single-digit numbers and exploring patterns in numbers but, as far as multiplication and division are concerned, you really need more blocks.
You can do up to 4 times tables with the smaller blocks – 1×4 (four 1 blocks stacked), 2×4 (four 2 blocks stacked), 3×4 (four 3 blocks stacked) and 4×4 (four 4 blocks stacked), but if you wanted to do 5×4 (four 5 blocks stacked), you couldn’t easily stack two 10s for the answer because only one comes in the set and so you would have to stack a combination of numbers which can start to get a little confusing – much like this explanation :/ but I hope you get what I mean. Basically you need more blocks.
The home set comes with a very simple activity card showing two games children can play with the Sumblox. However, as a homeschooler, I would have liked to have a more comprehension manual.
If you purchase a school set (available from the Sumblox store), it comes with a set of four lesson guides. I contacted Sumblox to see whether these guides are available to purchase separately either as a hardcopy or a digital download and they said that at this stage they are only being offered as part of the school set. This was a bit of a disappointment as I would have liked to see more ways in which the blocks could be used for increasingly complex maths.
At the least, I think a more detailed user guide needs to be included in the home set. Personally, I found using the Sumblox for fractions to be confusing and would have liked a user guide to explain the process.
So, would I buy them?
Would I buy them for our homeschool? Yes, and no. I think at 7, Jack is reaching the top of the capabilities of the Sumblox; he knows his numerals to ten, can add to ten in his head, knows how to skip count by 2s, 5s and 10s, and can solve for the unknown in single-digit equations. For him, I wouldn’t buy a set.
Having said that though, if both my children were maybe 6 and under, then I would seriously consider buying a set. They are exceptional quality, not too heavy, stack and balance beautifully, are a great size and easy for little hands to hold. Through playing with the blocks, kids can learn to count to and from ten, skip count by 2s and 3s to ten, practice even and odd numbers to ten, add and subtract single-digit equations and even start exploring the concept of multiplication and division. They really are an excellent early maths manipulative.