The Magna-Tile Exploration


Magna-Tiles are the most popular building material we have in our program. The most popular building material used to be Lego, but connecting bricks are now second to Magna-Tiles. The children are imaginative and creative and ingenuity when working with this material. Whenever I think that the Magna-Tiles have been assembled in as many ways as humanly possible, I delight in seeing a new creation by the children, born by weaving and interchanging the Magna-Tiles in a form I would have never thought possible.

When children use Magna-Tiles, they are most often combined with another material or toy for the purposes of imaginary play. As children engage in imaginary play, I keep a good distance between us, so the children can play openly and creatively as possible. That being said, I decided to spend one week and watch the Magna-Tile building as closely as possible, along with the subsequent play, and see if I could find out what makes this material the most popular of all building materials. Here is what I observed.

Day One -The elementary children were building with Magna Tiles. They created structures they described as “homes” for their large stuffed animals and small plush animal toys. Another group created a building to hold toy cars. The garage structures featured moving parts, walls that opened and closed, and a secret space to hide cars on the inside of the original structure. The car group experimented with different shapes to see what shape would move as a door more effectively. There was also experimentation with tile size in terms of movability and function.

The children’s work with manipulative materials feature experimentation in design, functional design, and iteration. What is Iteration? As defined by IDEO the leader in industrial design. Iteration is the act of repeating something typically for emphasis or clarity. It is the act of testing for feedback to inspire the next design. The children are working on human centered design in the desire to create a better car house or animal home.

Day Two -There was an extension of the Magna Tile work today. Three younger children were using only triangular Magna-Tiles to create spaceships. There was much discussion about space travel and the ability of the different ship designs to withstand a crash.

Another group of children created a large house for their toy animals and one toy doll. The home featured many rooms of various sizes and secret doors for animals to hide. The three children doing this work were focused on their design and Iteration just like the children working the previous day.

The children not only love the versatility of the material and find the different shapes interesting; the potential of the material inspires the children to experiment in their play. Using the same size and type of shape of tile intentionally to explore different building opportunities, is a provocation created by the children and invites other children to explore the potential the material holds.

Day Three -Two children collaborated to create a Magna-Tile hospital and church. They worked on the hospital for a long time, but created the main structure quickly. Then the topic of the roof came up. The roof was changed many times as the children said the roof looked “too much like a church to be a hospital”. After much redesign the children came up with a roof that was flatter and flared out on the bottom. The said, “that looks like a hospital roof.” Then one of the children said, “We should build a church over here.” Then work started on the church building next to the hospital. It was explained to me that the hospital had a specific design that featured layers of color. “Look the top is green, then blue, the red, and orange.” This represented the four floors of the hospital building walls. The final part of the construction was building a sidewalk that became a road. Then a parking lot was built between the hospital and the church for easy access. Then the children played with their creation until time to go home.

Much of the creative work the children do with blocks and other manipulative materials goes unexplained. The children are playing and creating in their own world and have no interest sharing what the play is about or what they are doing.

Day Four – The children’s work with Magna-Tiles has changed. Negotiation has become part of the building process. More children are trying to create with Magna-tiles, and this has created a competition to get the parts the children need to create their vision.

One aspect for children working in collaborative spaces is the need to negotiate for access to the materials they need to create with. It would be wonderful to have an endless supply of the materials the children desired, but when a material becomes popular, skills in sharing, trading, collaborating, and waiting for an opportunity are a reality in a program with many children.

Day Five - The children’s work with Magna-tiles continued to evolve today. The children created large triangular buildings, constructed to hold cars, transformers, and dinosaurs from home. The building construction has evolved from creating only square and rectangular structures to more complex work.

The children used Magna-Tiles to create a structure all based on triangles. It was a low sitting structure that moved in a spiral pattern ending in a half circle. What caught my eye was the sharp angles and creativity in using only a certain shape to create a structure with.

The work continues to expand and evolve as the children take the time and explore the possibilities of a material they love. I can’t wait to see what the children come up with next, as there are always exciting discoveries to be made when observing the children at work.