Review: Sumblox – Mathematical Building Blocks

Sumblox Review

Sumblox Review

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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.

Sumblox ReviewWhat 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.Sumblox Review

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.

Sumblox Review Sumblox ReviewWhen 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.

Sumblox Review 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?

Block Design:

Sumblox ReviewThere 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.

Age Range

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.

Activity Card

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?

Sumblox ReviewWould 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.

If you’re looking to get a set, ours are from Finlee and Me. If you’re outside of Australia, you can purchase them from the Sumblox store.

12 Replies to “Review: Sumblox – Mathematical Building Blocks”

  1. Thank you Kate – have been looking at these and wondering wondering, one of my girls is so fascinated by numbers I think she would get alot out of these blocks…I’m almost ready to buy haha!

  2. Thank you Kate for this really wonderful review. I have been looking at the Sumblox too for a while but just wasn’t sure. This is the best review I have read so far. I think I will get a set. My children are younger than yours (3 and 5) and they are really at the beginning of learning all that you were saying. Being able to learn all that different maths while still playing with blocks is just wonderful.

  3. I haven’t seen these before and they look amazing! Thank you for this wonderful (and honest) review.

  4. Lydia purple says:

    I like the idea behind sumblox. But when I took a closer look at their website I noticed the problem with the number 4 not standing right on it’s own and the resulting inconsistencies. Also the limited number of blocks in the home set could have been thought through better. They could have included 5 twos and 3 threes instead of 4 of each… So one could at least multiply up to 5×2=10. For this price tag I think one could expect details like these being thought through better.

    We own Grimm’s stepped counting blocks, which allow you to explore all the concepts (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and fractions) the sumblox offer in pretty much the same way by corresponding size. They are a lot less $$$ especially if you choose the 2cm block scale not the 4cm. There are 100 blocks ten each for the numbers 1-10… which allow you to explore math concepts up to 100. The only thing missing would be that they are just rods not shaped like the actual number but if one wish one could just write the numbers on them with a permanent marker to make the direct connection between number and size. I am not paid or anything to write this I am a math lover and homeschooling mom and I think that the Grimm’s counting blocks are great alternative to sumblox especially if the price tag is an issue (which lots of your readers mentioned on Instagram).

    1. Yes, it was when Jack was trying to do 2×5=10 that we first saw the limitations in the home set. And I agree that the combinations of numbers could be different in the home set to allow for more scope – like you said, at least up to the 5 times tables since skip counting by 2s, 5s, and 10s is one of the first introductions to multiplication.

      Is this the Grimms set that you were talking about? http://amzn.to/1VvHT3K How big is the smallest and largest block? I can’t quite get a good perspective from the images.

      1. Lydia purple says:

        Yes that’s the set. The smaller set we have has following measurements: each block is 2×2 cm and the number one is 1 cm high, the ten is 10 cm high. The larger set is 4x4cm and then 2 cm high for number one.

        Here is one example how they look in action from my Instagram https://instagram.com/p/BC7TtOABKg8/

        My favorite discovery yet is that one can place them from 1-10 around each other to create a spiral. How is that for math concepts?

    2. Thanks for sharing about the Grimm set Lydia. I had seen them in pictures online but hadn’t read enough to realise that they were in scale for number work. They might have to go on my Wishlist now. ?

  5. The idea of the numbers adding up to the size of the answer is rather clever. However if I was to pay out $300 it would have to be for a product that withstands the ‘test of time’ and applicable for a long time. I can see the scope of these would be quickly mastered and the novelty would wear off quickly. And the age span is limited. Really appreciated your review.

    1. Absolutely, I could really see these blocks being well-used in a childcare/preschool/kindergarten setting where there is a new group of children to play with them every year. I was also thinking that asking a local toy library for a set could be a good idea or even investing in a set through a homeschool co-op or group. I do think they are a quality material but yeah, the price tag can hold you back a little.

      1. A little?

        With respect, and maybe as the disabled father of a two-year-old (who would happily use these blocks for basic addition and subtraction), I’m not the target audience for your blog, $220 is about 4 months disposable income for my family.

        These blocks may be affordable if mummy and daddy’s mummy and daddy helped with the deposit for their house and one parent has a 6 figure income, but for those of us renting in Sydney on a single five figure income these blocks are just another ostentatious luxury. Cost to produce – around $5-15 (ex-client made beechwood furniture).

        While I understand that ‘things are expensive nowadays’ and ‘companies have to make a profit to stay in business’, people actually shelling out $220 for these blocks perpetuates the lack of affordability for the rest of us in the first world, and the second and third world. A perfect example of ‘the best education you can afford’ type of issues, but I really don’t understand how you can recommend anyone drop this amount of money on a set of blocks that will be mastered in weeks or months by most children they’re bought for.

        (I admit they’re decent for classrooms).

  6. I am seriously considering getting some of these for my classroom. Thanks for your review. I think with the dollar the way it is just now it might be better to buy two home sets. Do you think there would be enough blocks for small group work, or inclusion in the block building area that way?
    Also, I followed the link to the sumblox store and saw that the activity cards can be purchased separately. https://www.sumblox.com/buy.php

    1. If you purchase the School set it doesn’t have 10×10, 10×9 etc in it but 24×1, etc…..so it can sometimes work out the same cost per block, however you should be able to find the 100 block set for $419.99 or less depending where you shop (with free delivery).

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