Simple Machines for Kids to Build at Home

By | May 27, 2015
Stationary bike: a working model

Stationary bike: a working model

I have always been intrigued by the toys that are designed for use in the classroom. Many schools don’t have these so I am continually on the look-out to see what sets are available that I can possibly get for my kids. I really love the idea that they can play and learn at the same time. Building up a collection of these types of toys is like building up an arsenal of science projects for kids.

The sets that I discuss below are for some of the simpler science concepts and I will deal with some more advanced sets in a later article.

Levers, pulleys, gears, wheels, axles and inclined planes

Learning about the concepts of simple machines such as levers, pulleys, gears and wheels is not easy when the children only get to see pictures and an explanation of how they work. A demonstration of these concepts doesn’t have the same impact on a student as being able to explore these concepts by building models that work. Using a hands-on, enquiry-based approach to these concepts as children build and investigate working models enhances the learning experience a lot.

There are a number of sets from K’Nex Education that can be used in the classroom and at home to help children grasp many important educational concepts and teach them valuable STEM skills. They are also great for home schooling. The kids will also get the usual benefits that come with owning and playing with educational building toys.

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education requires that students be active participants in the learning process. This is easily achieved if children are given the opportunity to build models of real-world machines. This encourages learning through problem solving, discovery, exploratory learning and critical thinking.

If my children are going to spend time indoors then I prefer them to be busy with something that they can learn from and not time-wasters. The K’Nex sets below are a good option for achieving this. I wasn’t surprised to find out that these 3 sets are often bought together.

All these sets come with a Teacher’s Guide that helps with information and resources to assist you in building the child’s knowledge and using the correct terminology. Some extension activities are also included to encourage a deeper exploration of the concepts.


Learn about how gears work by building working models of real-world machines

Learn about how gears work by building working models of real-world machines

K’Nex Education Intro to Simple Machines: Gears

  • Number of pieces: 198 classic k’nex pieces, including various gears
  • Number of models: 7 fully-functioning replicas of real-world machines can be built one at a time
  • Instructions: instructions for the 7 models are included and a comprehensive teacher’s guide CD
  • Storage: packaged in a storage tray with a snap-on lid
  • Suggested age: 8 years and older
  • Amazon customer rating: 4.7 / 5
  • Price: from $US 30.62

This set introduces children to the scientific concepts associated with gears. As they build the various projects they are able to investigate, discuss and evaluate scientific principles in action.

The Teacher’s Guide helps with information and resources to assist you in building the child’s knowledge and using the correct terminology. Some extension activities are also included to encourage a deeper exploration of the concepts

Some feedback from Amazon customers about this set:

  • The models typically take children 1 to 2 hours to build.
  • Younger children may need a little help
  • The achievement of building working models is a great esteem-builder

Buy this K’Nex Gears set from amazon now


Learn about levers and pulleys with these working models

Learn about levers and pulleys with these working models

K’Nex Education Intro to Simple Machines: Levers and Pulleys

  • Number of pieces: 178 pieces (classic size)
  • Number of models: 8 fully-functioning replicas of real-world machines can be built one at a time
  • Instructions: instructions for the 8 models are included and a comprehensive teacher’s guide CD
  • Storage: packaged in a storage tub with a snap-on lid
  • Suggested age: 8 years and older
  • Amazon customer rating: 4.6 / 5
  • Price: from $US 45.12

The concepts associated with levers and pulleys can be quite difficult for some children to grasp and being able to build working models that use these is a great way to help them learn. It is much easier to explain a concept when it can be demonstrated on a working model rather than trying to explain it from a picture.

Customer comments on Amazon

  • Helps children learn concepts taught in science about levers and pulleys
  • Keeps children constructively busy for a good amount of time
  • Children keep playing with their K’Nex sets over and over again
  • Parents and siblings can join in and younger children might need a little help

Buy the K’Nex Levers and Pulleys set from Amazon now


 

Have fun exploring the use of wheels, axles and inclined planes

Have fun exploring the use of wheels, axles and inclined planes

K’Nex Education Intro to Simple Machines: Wheels, Axles and Inclined Planes

  • Number of pieces: 221 pieces (classic size)
  • Number of models: 8 fully-functioning replicas of real-world machines can be built one at a time
  • Instructions: instructions for the 7 models are included and a comprehensive teacher’s guide CD
  • Storage: packaged in a storage tub with a snap-on lid
  • Suggested age: 8 years and older
  • Amazon customer rating: 4.7 / 5
  • Price: from $US 27.58

Amazon customer comments

There is one customer who complained about the steering wheel on the car model not working to actually steer the wheels. It was the only negative comment and only 1 customer had this complaint. I can’t help wondering if it was not perhaps due to a missing piece.

Most customers were satisfied with the enjoyment their kids got out of the set while they learnt important science concepts. They also liked that it kept them busy for hours at a time.

Buy the wheels, axels and inclined planes set from Amazon now

My verdict

I think all 3 of these sets are great and it is very difficult to choose one over another because they teach different science concepts. It is not so much about the specific models that can be built with each set but rather about the lessons that they teach. In the long run I will probably invest in all 3 of these sets.

If you want to add more K’Nex pieces to these sets so that bigger models and other creations can be built then take a look at my article comparing some of the basic K’Nex building sets.

Would you consider buying any of these sets for your children, or do you perhaps already have them? I would love to hear from you, so please leave a comment below.

 

6 thoughts on “Simple Machines for Kids to Build at Home

  1. John

    Lesley,
    My 10 year old has had some of this kind of building kits before. His were the more simple kits that only made small items. They do make the kids build things from instructions, so it does teach some structure in the making of their toys. These simple machines will offer a lot more learning than playing a video game.
    John

    Reply
    1. Lesley Post author

      Thanks for stopping by.
      I agree – these kinds of toys can teach children much more than a video game can. Apart from the science concepts being taught they also learn a lot of other skills like perseverance that are useful as they grow up.

      Reply
  2. Andrea

    These look great! My son would probably love this stuff when he gets a bit older. Building is so much fun, and it is even more fun when it is so easy!

    Reply
    1. Lesley Post author

      I agree Andrea, building is really great fun and I enjoy it myself. There is a range of K’Nex for the younger kids called Kid K’Nex if you are interested in looking into it. just keep in mind that the pieces will not connect with the standard sets because they are bigger and softer – especially designed for little fingers.

      Reply
  3. Moritz

    Hello Lesley,
    I wish I had machines to build like this when I was young. I will definitely get some of those for my kids, when I have kids.
    In the meantime, maybe I just buy it for myself! 😀

    Thanks for your great article and review.
    Enjoyed the read.
    Moritz

    Reply
    1. Lesley Post author

      Hi Moritz, thanks for stopping by. The building toys have really come a long way as educational toys. Not as basic as when we were young. these days there is so much to often the children to help them learn.

      Reply

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